Nine months before allegations of absentee ballot fraud tainted a congressional race in North Carolina, the state elections board gave officials from the Justice Department’s main office evidence that the political operative at the center of the scandal had used similar tactics in 2016.
On Jan. 31, 2018, the chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which oversees prosecutions of election crimes, met in Raleigh with state officials and U.S. attorney Robert Higdon, according to an elections board spokesman.
The following day, the state officials sent a public integrity lawyer an eight-page memo describing interviews with two campaign workers who said they were paid during the 2016 election to hand-deliver mail-in ballots to political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless. Under North Carolina law, only voters or their close relatives or guardians may deliver or mail in ballots. The memo also summarized interviews with three Bladen County voters who filed complaints saying those campaign workers had sought their ballots.
The meeting and follow-up email, obtained by The Washington Post under a public records request, are the first public indications that officials with the Justice Department in Washington were made aware of the allegations against Dowless. Dowless has emerged in recent weeks as a key figure in the absentee ballot scandal in Republican Mark Harris’s 2018 congressional bid. State elections officials and some voters have expressed frustration that federal prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in North Carolina did not act more aggressively to pursue earlier complaints against Dowless and potentially stop him from working on campaigns.