Four plead guilty in North Carolina ballot fraud cases

The defendants entered a plea, and as part of their agreement none will have to server active prison or jail time.

Updated: September 27, 2022 - 5:16pm

Four people in North Carolina have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for their roles in absentee ballot fraud in a rural part of the state.

The fraud occurred in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and the convictions stemmed from an investigation that in part resulted in a congressional election having to be redone, according to the Associated Press.

The defendants entered a plea Monday with prosecutors, which Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway accepted in his Wake County court. As part of the agreement, none will have to serve active prison or jail time. 

Cases against six other defendants remained pending, with hearings scheduled through next month, county District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told the wire service.

All 10 defendants, according to the 2019 indictments, were connected to Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a longtime political operative in the state who was indicted on more than a dozen state charges.

Dowless’ case was set to go to trial last month, but he died in April after being diagnosed with lung cancer. 

He worked in the 2018 congressional race for then-Republican candidate Mark Harris, who appeared to have received the most votes in the general election for the 9th Congressional District seat, in south-central North Carolina.

But allegations against Dowless surfaced, and testimony and other information revealed at a State Board of Elections hearing described him running an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation for the 2018 general election in Bladen County, the Associated Press also reports.

According to testimony, Dowless and others gathered hundreds of absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.

Some of workers said they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates, the wire service also reports. It is essentially against North Carolina law for anyone other than the voter or a family member to handle someone else’s completed ballot.

The election board ordered a new 9th District election. No charges were filed against Harris, who didn’t run in the subsequent election.

The state investigation also led to charges of similar absentee ballot activities in Bladen for the 2016 general election and 2018 primary.

The defendants Monday – Rebecca D. Thompson; Tonia Marie Gordon; Ginger Shae Eason; and Kelly Hendrix – all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess absentee ballots. They all received suspended jail sentences, probation and 100 hours of community service, also according to the Associated Press.

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