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N.C. Residents Plead Guilty to Misdemeanor Ballot Fraud

'The convictions are part of a broader investigation into absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County during the 2016 and 2018 elections that also involves six other defendants awaiting hearings for next month...'

(The Center Square) Four N.C. residents face community service after they pleaded guilty on Monday to misdemeanor ballot fraud during the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Rebecca Thompson, Tonia Marie Gordon, Ginger Shae Eason and Kelly Hendrix pleaded guilty to possessing absentee ballots and all received suspended jail sentences, probation and 100 hours of community service as part of a plea agreement accepted by Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway on Monday, The Associated Press [AP] reported.

They were initially charged with conspiracy to commit felony obstruction of justice and possessing illegally an absentee ballot belonging to someone else.

The convictions are part of a broader investigation into absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County during the 2016 and 2018 elections that also involves six other defendants awaiting hearings for next month, according to Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

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All of the defendants were involved with Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a political operative who allegedly coordinated an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation that involved gathering hundreds of absentee ballots from voters by offering to mail them on their behalf.

Dowless’ associates told investigators they collected blank or incomplete ballots, then forged signatures with votes for local candidates.

The scheme allegedly helped elect 2018 congressional candidate Mark Harris in the 9th District, but the State Board of Elections voted to order a new election, which was won by Rep. Dan Bishop in Sept. 2019, according to the news wire.

The investigation also revealed similar stunts during the 2016 election and Dowless faced more than a dozen charges when he rejected a plea agreement. Dowless, who was scheduled for trial last month, died in April following a lung cancer diagnosis.

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Freeman told the judge on Monday that the plea agreements for Thompson, Gordon, Eason and Hendrix were appropriate because Dowless instigated the scheme.

“Mr. Dowless really was the ringleader in organizing all of this,” Freeman said, the AP reports. “The individuals involved in these cases often were doing it out of some affiliation or feeling loyalty to him — maybe a little bit of money here and there.”

Hendrix participated in the fraud in the 2016 and 2018 elections after meeting Dowless while working at Hardee’s in Bladen County, while Gordan, indicted for 2016 general election fraud, told authorities Dowless paid her $100 for every 20 completed absentee ballot request forms and $5 for every completed absentee ballot.

Dowless was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty in 2021 for illegally collecting Social Security while concealing payments for political work, though he never served his sentence.

Harris was never charged with a crime.

Pete Wood, an attorney representing Hendrix, told Ridgeway the plea agreement was a “good outcome” for his client, the AP reported.

“Why did she do what she did?” he said. “Because she was friends with Mr. Dowless… that doesn’t excuse it.”

The cases are only now being resolved due to delays from the COVID-19 pandemic and Dowless’ federal case.

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