State Politics

Bladen County votes scrutinized

A protest has been filed in Bladen County alleging that a handful of people may have improperly submitted hundreds of absentee ballots, while also getting paid for get-out-the-vote efforts by a community group funded by the N.C. Democratic Party.

According to the protest filed by McCrae Dowless, who won election as soil and water district supervisor, the handwriting on a number of ballots and the signatures of some mail-in absentee witnesses were similar. He said the questioned ballots seem to have been cast in favor of a straight ticket of candidates and also to vote for a man named Franklin Graham, who ran a write-in campaign for soil and water district supervisor.

A letter the Bladen County elections board wrote to the State Board of Elections, and attached to the complaint, raises the same concerns. While some ballots listed witnesses, few include the documentation that would be required if someone had also assisted the voters, according to the letter.

“These are not simply helpful individuals who have attempted to assist a large swath of Bladen County’s voters to cast their ballots,” Dowless wrote. “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.”

Dowless had enough votes to win the nonpartisan office, collecting 7,744 votes to a write-in total of 3,743, which included Graham.

Although the complaint does not mention the governor candidates, Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign publicized the protest and put Attorney General Roy Cooper squarely in the middle of it.

“A massive voting fraud scheme has been uncovered in Bladen County,” McCrory’s campaign manager said in an emailed solicitation for financial contributions. “Hundreds of absentee ballots appear to have been fraudulently cast for Roy Cooper and other Democrats. Initial evidence shows that a North Carolina Democrat Party-funded group may have paid people to cast fraudulent votes to tip this election to Roy Cooper!”

Kimberly Reynolds, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party, said the governor’s campaign was exaggerating the issue to harm Cooper.

“As usual, these claims from the McCrory campaign are over the top and completely false,” Reynolds said in an email Tuesday night. “The complaint in question does not even deal with a Democrat — it is an investigation into improper assistance in a nonpartisan local Soil and Water Conservation District race. The State Board of Elections is already investigating this potential issue in a local race as they should.”

“This is an isolated incident that the State Board of Elections is aware of and investigating,” Ford Porter, Cooper’s campaign spokesman, said in response. “We fully support that investigation into improper assistance in this nonpartisan local Soil and Water Conservation District race. Once again, Governor McCrory is trying to undermine the results of an election he lost.”

McCrory won Bladen County by about 1,000 votes over Cooper.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO