North Carolina’s ‘Guru of Elections’: Can-Do Operator Who May Have Done Too Much

“They were around, saying they would certainly help people cast absentee ballots,” said Barbie Silvas, who mailed in a ballot This particular year. “They said, ‘I’m here for McCrae to help people to vote.’”

Mr. Dowless appeared inside news inside early 1990s after he was accused of taking out, in addition to collecting on, a life insurance policy on an employee who had just died, backdating This particular in addition to forging a signature. He ultimately spent about six months in prison, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Less than two decades later, he was one of a handful of get-out-the-vote experts who wielded significant influence in Bladen County, a struggling rural area where one in four people live below the poverty line. Records show in which beginning in 2009, at least seven Democratic in addition to Republican candidates paid him for work.

In 2010, Mr. Dowless worked for a Democratic candidate for district attorney. A local television station at in which time named Mr. Dowless as one of “a few heavy hitters inside Bladen County get-out-the-vote arena.” Part of the local political culture, the station reported, involved political operatives distributing sample ballots for which they had sold spots to the highest-bidding candidates.

The Republican candidate, Jonathan M. David, eventually won the election. He criticized the pay-to-play tactics, which he said “lets a smaller group of people who don’t contain the best interest of the community at heart, although their own financial interest at stake, to dictate who becomes important leaders in their community.”

in which same year produced a political landmark for Bladen County, which elected a Democrat as its first black sheriff.

The racial backlash — the county was then 56 percent white in addition to 35 percent black — was palpable, recalled Patsy Sheppard, right now a vice chairwoman of the local Democratic Party. She recalled hearing her fellow whites say, “We need a white sheriff.”