NC man guilty of bad joke, not voter fraud

abaird@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2012 

Updated: Jim Turner of Pine Knoll Shores is getting a crash course in social media.

The 69-year-old of Pine Knoll Shores writes a column for a local publication called Shoreline, and he took to Facebook last Friday with a comment he intended as a sarcastic joke for his daughter and intended for a narrow circle of friends: "I voted once in Beaufort, once in Henderson, twice in Emerald Isle and will vote in my precinct," he said.

Turner made the comment on Barack Obama's fan page, and in the days since has seen firsthand that what happens on Facebook doesn't always stay there.

Many are anxious to show concrete examples of voter fraud this election cycle, and someone captured an image of the comment and made it spread like wildfire through social media and blogs.

More than 4 million people have seen the post, according to Marshall Tutor, lead investigator for the state Board of Elections; he said an investigation determined that multiple ballots were not cast by Turner and confirmed the post was in fact a botched joke.

"My daughter says 69-year-old men without basic computer knowledge should not play on Facebook," Turner said in an email. "She’s right!"

The comment was widely taken at face value and struck a nerve with many, as there was a full-on attack against Turner by people who saw what he said.

His home phone number and address were published on blogs. So were pictures of his wife and grandchildren. His daughter told a reporter from local TV station WITN that death threats and constant calls were enough to push her parents to temporarily leave home.

Turner expressed regret for stirring up controversy and concern for his family. He said it all comes down to a misunderstanding: "My neighbors here on the coast have become very familiar with my sarcastic take on life," he said. There would not "have been an issue if the people who know me and my 'way with words' were the only people who read them."

Gary Bartlett, state elections director, said the comment and the reaction it drew are both unfortunate.

"This is not a joking matter," Bartlett said. "Everyone takes voter fraud seriously, and this kind of thing just hurts the confidence people have in their elections."

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