ELIZABETHTOWN — A formal protest has been filed with the Bladen County Board of Elections regarding alleged fraudulent acts on the part of a Bladen County political action committee and, to make matters more complicated, the Pat McCrory campaign is also investigating voter fraud in the county.
Earlier this month, Bladen County by Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor candidate McCrae Dowless filed a protest alleging voter fraud on the part of the Bladen Improvement PAC. According to the complaint, this year’s election involved a “massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots, perpetrated by and through the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.”
The issue came to light during early voting for the general election, when thousands of votes were cast for a write-in candidate for the Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor race. Though Dowless ended up winning the seat by just over 4,000 votes, more than 3,700 voters supposedly wrote in a candidate for the race.
According to the protest, “Upon in-person review of mail-in absentee ballots by a forensic handwriting expert, it appears that literally hundreds of fraudulent ballots were cast … Despite the unusually large number of ballots cast for a particular write-in candidate named Franklin Graham, it appears that … the handwriting on hundreds of those ballots matches only about a dozen handwriting styles.”
“The general statute states that voters asking for assistance can receive assistance from anyone of their choosing, and it’s not limited to a certain number — you can witness 2,000,” said Bladen Improvement PAC representative Horace Munn. “You have those with eye problems and different disabilities, and if they ask you to help that’s allowed by law. All of a sudden now, the general statute is coming into question, and people may not like it, but we’re not dealing with opinions — we’re dealing with the law.”
The protest also alleges that “in further shocking evidence of this scheme, the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC filed reports with the North Carolina State Board of Elections admitting that it paid (Deborah) Monroe (who validated at least 67 ballots) multiple payments totaling $550 for G.O.T.V (Get Out The Vote).”
The protests also lists payments made to Mary Johnson for witnessing 74 ballots ($450), Lola Wooten for witnessing 58 ballots ($500), Deborah Cogdell for witnessing 45 ballots ($300) and Bridgette Keaton for witnessing 16 ballots ($630).
“These are not simply helpful individuals who have attempted to assist a large swath of Bladen County’s voters to cast their ballots,” the protest goes on to say. “This is the shocking evidence resulting from a blatant scheme to try to impact the voting results of an entire county and perhaps even sway statewide and federal elections.”
Munn addressed that issue as well.
“These people are volunteers, and we give them a stipend,” he said. “They’re out there from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and only receive $35 a day as a stipend for gas and food. They’re working for the cause, not for money.”
He added, “There’s a lot of slander going around, but slander won’t be around forever — the truth always comes out. My character is impeccable, and I’m not worried about how this will turn out.”
The matter is being investigated by the state’s Board of Elections. Regardless of the outcome, Bladen election officials don’t expect it to affect the canvass scheduled for Friday.
“I can’t see the canvass being delayed,” said Bladen County Board of Elections chairman Bobby Ludlum. “After the canvass, they may redact votes, depending on the results of the investigation, but I don’t think the state will delay the canvass.”
Ludlum declined to speculate on a timeline, as did state Board of Election officials. The latter released the following statement:
“The State Board of Elections has been investigating alleged irregularities regarding mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County during the general election, and that investigation continues.”
According to Ludlum, the state’s investigators have been in Bladen County since Monday and have been out in the field interviewing voters.
“We’re not exactly sure what will happen,” said Ludlum. “We’re plowing new ground here. I’ve been working elections since 1994, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Bladen County Board of Elections will be holding a meeting Thursday at 1 p.m. Election results are expected to be certified by state officials on Nov. 29.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.