FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2018 photo, Leslie McCrae Dowless poses for a portrait outside of his home in Bladenboro, N. C. N.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach warned in a January 2017 letter obtained by The Associated Press that those involved in illegally harvesting absentee ballots in rural Bladen County would likely do it again if they weren’t prosecuted. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

North Carolina official had asked feds to act in voting case

December 21, 2018 - 9:40 am

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's top elections official issued an urgent plea nearly two years ago for the Trump Administration to file criminal charges against the man now at the center of ballot fraud allegations that have thrown a 2018 Congressional race into turmoil.

N.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach warned in a January 2017 letter obtained by The Associated Press that those involved in illegally harvesting absentee ballots in rural Bladen County would likely do it again if they weren't prosecuted. Elections officials say Strach's memo was followed less than a month later with an in-person meeting with federal prosecutors in Raleigh where they provided evidence accusing Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. and others of criminal activity.

"Our findings to date suggest that individuals and potentially groups of individuals engaged in efforts to manipulate election results through the absentee ballot process," Strach wrote. "The evidence we have obtained suggest that these efforts may have taken place in the past and if not addressed will likely continue for future elections."

At the time, there was only an acting U.S. attorney in office. Later in 2017, President Donald Trump's appointee arrived, but took no action to prosecute the matter. Instead he focused on a different priority — prosecuting a handful of non-citizens who had allegedly voted.

A spokesman for Robert J. Higdon, Jr., who took over as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina in September 2017, has declined to comment on why no charges were filed following the state's criminal referrals against Dowless and other Bladen county political operatives.

Authorities say Dowless is the subject of an investigation into irregularities in the Nov. 6 vote in the state's 9th Congressional District. Dowless has declined repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.