A controversial political operative at the center of a scandal in a North Carolina congressional race has been arrested and charged with obstructing justice and illegally possessing absentee ballots during the 2018 election. On Tuesday, the Republican representative who held a slight lead in this race dropped out.
What's the background?
Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready in November by 905 votes for one of North Carolina's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state election board refused to certify these results due to allegations of voter fraud that were serious enough to merit an investigation.
The accusations focused on a political operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless who worked for the Harris campaign, and had been accused of election fraud in prior elections. Dowless was accused of paying people to manipulate ballots in favor of Harris during the 2018 election. Harris has insisted on his own innocence throughout the ordeal.
On Tuesday, Harris dropped out of the race, citing health issues. The state will hold a new election for this seat from the state's 9th Congressional District. McCready still plans to run for the seat.
What happened now?
According to accusations in the indictment, which was released Tuesday, Dowless "unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously did, with deceit and intent to defraud, obstruct public and legal justice by submitting or causing to be submitted by mail absentee ballots and container-return envelopes for those ballots to the Bladen County Board of Elections in such a manner as to make it appear that those ballots had been voted and executed in compliance with" existing North Carolina election law, "when they in fact had not been so executed."
Harris would end up winning 61 percent of the absentee vote.
Dowless is facing three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of possession of absentee ballots, and two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.
During hearings that the state election board held to determine whether or not to certify the election results, Dowless refused to testify unless he could be promised immunity.