Four associates of a now-deceased Republican operative in North Carolina who were accused of engaging in absentee ballot fraud have now pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
Those four individuals all received suspended jail sentences for a misdemeanor offense related to their fraudulent activities in the 2016 and 2018 elections, while six other charged defendants still have pending cases and hearings scheduled for October, Just the News reported.
Their scheme involving absentee ballots actually prompted North Carolina election officials to redo a congressional election after its results were called into question.
Illegal “harvesting” of absentee ballots
According to the Associated Press, the 10 charged individuals had all worked with the now-deceased GOP operative named Leslie McRae Dowless Jr., who at the time of the fraud worked on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Davis, who initially appeared to win the election for North Carolina’s 9th congressional district.
That election was later held again without Davis as a candidate — Davis was never charged for any role in the scheme on his behalf — and the seat has been held since then by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC).
It was shortly thereafter alleged that Dowless, the ringleader, and his associates had fraudulently engaged in “ballot harvesting,” which is illegal in the state, by collecting and submitting hundreds of absentee ballots on behalf of others.
Some of the associates admitted that they’d been directed to, in some cases, actually fill in blank or partially completed ballots and ballot request forms and to even forge signatures, and in some instances were paid modest sums for their work.
In the end, the four individuals pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to possess absentee ballots, for which they received suspended jail sentences, probation, and community service.
They had originally been charged with felony counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice and unlawful possession of absentee ballots.
Dowless died before being held accountable
As noted, Dowless was the purported ringleader of this absentee ballot scheme in rural North Carolina and he had actually been charged and convicted in 2021 of illegally obtaining Social Security benefits in 2018, and though he had faced up to 15 years in prison, his plea deal resulted in just a six-month sentence, according to WFAE.
However, Dowless never actually served that sentence, as his trial had initially been delayed due to the pandemic and then his sentence had been further delayed by his declining health.
Then, in April, Dowless passed away from lung cancer, per Spectrum News, meaning he never served his time for the Social Security fraud and was never convicted or sentenced for the absentee ballot fraud he stood accused of — though the associates he directed in that fraud will face the consequences.