FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2018 file photo, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. poses for a portrait outside of his home in Bladenboro, N.C. The North Carolina political operative at the center of a ballot fraud scandal is facing criminal charges for his activities in the 2016 elections and the Republican primary in 2018. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, that Dowless was arrested after grand jury indictments alleging illegal possession of absentee ballots and obstruction of justice. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, File)

The Latest: Operative charged in congressional race

February 27, 2019 - 12:10 pm

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on the unresolved North Carolina congressional race (all times local):

11:55 a.m.

An operative in North Carolina's unresolved congressional race has been charged with obstruction and illegal ballot possession related to 2016 and 2018 elections .

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Wednesday that Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. was arrested after the grand jury indictments.

According to testimony and other findings detailed at an election board hearing last week, Dowless conducted an illegal "ballot harvesting" operation. He and his assistants are accused of gathering up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.

State law makes it illegal for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot.

Also charged were people Dowless allegedly paid in 2016 to collect ballots.

Dowless was working on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Harris, who had a slim lead in last November's vote count before a new election was ordered.

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1 a.m.

Three well-known Republicans are staying out of a North Carolina congressional race being re-run after suspicions of ballot fraud tainted the first try. Instead, the GOP's 50-year hold on the seat will be left to lesser-known candidates.

Mark Harris said Tuesday he will not run in the new election the state elections board ordered unanimously last week. Harris was the apparent winner of the 9th Congressional District race before ballot fraud allegations surfaced.

Harris was hospitalized last month by a blood infection and said he suffered two strokes. He said he needs surgery late next month.

Former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger and former Gov. Pat McCrory also say they won't seek the seat.

Catawba College politics professor Michael Bitzer says GOP candidates must distance themselves from the scandal that forced the new race.