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McCrae Dowless, at center of NC-9 scandal, dies of cancer

Dowless, a lifelong Bladen County resident, faced fraud allegations regarding the 2018 midterm elections.
Published: Apr. 24, 2022 at 5:27 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - McCrae Dowless, the political operative at the center of the 9th Congressional District scandal in 2018, died Sunday morning after a months-long battle with cancer.

Dowless, a lifelong Bladen County resident, worked for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris in the 2018 scandal that prompted waves of coverage that resulted in the race being thrown out over allegations of fraud.

Despite having worked for Republicans in recent years, Dowless spent decades campaigning for local candidates from both parties in southeastern North Carolina.

He was also elected to two terms on the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation board.

It was his challenge of his own re-election victor--at the behest of lawyers for Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who’d narrowly lost re-election--that prompted state officials to investigate allegations of election fraud in Bladen County.

McCrae Dowless, the political operative at the center of the 9th Congressional District scandal in 2018, died Sunday morning

That investigation resulted in a detailed report that found credible allegations of fraud involving workers being paid by both Dowless and a rival group but no action was ever taken in response the report.

Dowless and six others were indicted in 2019 on charges related to election fraud by state prosecutors in Wake County. All co-defendants, including Dowless, pleaded not guilty.

After Dowless’ first arrests in Feb. 2019, he told WBTV in an exclusive interview that “the truth will prevail on it all.”

In response to news of Dowless’s death on Sunday, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman released the following statement:

“Our condolences to the Dowless family upon the loss of Mr. Dowless. Unfortunately Covid created a delay in the handling of this case like with many others. We had set a trial date of August and Mr. Dowless was entitled to the presumption of innocence through his day in court. There remain about six others charged related to this matter and we will be moving forward with those cases with the understanding that the State’s position was always that Mr. Dowless was the principal actor in coordinating the ballot process in question.”

Separately, Dowless was indicted in federal court on charges related to social security disability fraud. He pleaded guilty to those charges last year.

He was supposed to report to prison last December but was granted an extension until April 1 after being diagnosed with lung cancer that spread throughout his body.

Through dozens of hours of interviews with WBTV’s Chief Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner for his book The Vote Collectors, Dowless maintained his innocence with regard to the state election charges and said he looked forward to his day in court.

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