Evidence shows that the Bladen County Improvement Association paid people who engaged in ballot harvesting
- A pattern of mass absentee ballot requests and mass absentee ballot witnessing by both the “Dowless crew” and the Bladen County Improvement Association (BCIA PAC) are consistent with ballot harvesting.
- Witnesses have stated that people paid by the BCIA PAC took possession of their ballots, a felony under North Carolina law.
- A chain of campaign finance donations for the 2018 election linked the BCIA PAC, The NC Democratic Party, and the McCready Victory Fund.
In my previous article, I noted the lengths that Dan McCready attorney Marc Elias went to try to obscure the relationships between the Democratic Party of North Carolina, the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC (BCIA PAC), and individuals who were paid by the BCIA PAC. That article provides documentary evidence that such relationships existed.
So why did McCready’s lawyer try to deny those relationships?
While we cannot know for certain why Elias behaved as he did, one possible explanation is that evidence of such relationships would prove to be embarrassing to the Democratic Party and Dan McCready. There is evidence that people paid by the BCIA PAC with money from the NC Democratic Party engaged in ballot harvesting: the illegal taking of absentee ballots from voters.
Former Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections Gary Bartlett identified a pattern to ballot harvesting:
Bartlett said the abuse of absentee ballots usually follows this pattern: A team of two targets elderly or low-income voters and has them apply for an absentee ballot. Once the ballot arrives, they may help the voters fill it out. They sign as the two necessary witnesses and offer to mail it. If the voter marks a choice that’s not the team’s candidate, it’s not mailed.
While the last phase of the pattern (the collecting of absentee ballots) is difficult to accurately confirm, the other two phases (the mass requesting of absentee ballots and witnessing of ballots) were documented. While those activities by themselves are not illegal (although they should be), they are a necessary part of ballot harvesting operations and should raise red flags with election officials.
The first step of ballot harvesting: mass absentee ballot requests
The first step in the absentee ballot harvesting process is developing a list of targets. While the list of people who have requested absentee ballots is publicly available and can be picked up at the local county board of elections, ballot harvesters tend to groom their targets by filing absentee ballot requests on their behalf, collecting only the signature of the voters (if that). Doing so not only provides them a larger pool of ballots to take, it also develops a relationship with those targets that they can later exploit to get those voters to give up their ballots.
An examination of a log of absentee ballot requests kept by the Bladen County Board of Elections reveals two operations whose conduct fits Barlett’s description of the first phase of ballot harvesting. A detail of that log is seen in figure 1.
As seen in Table 1, there were a total of 1,351 absentee ballot requests submitted in person to the Bladen County Board of Elections for the 2018 general election. Of those 1,351 submissions, 1,269 came from people affiliated with one of two local groups. The first operation, conducted by McCrae Dowless and individuals associated with him, submitted 786 absentee ballot requests. People associated by documentation or testimony with the BCIA PAC submitted 483. Only 82 in-person requests came from people who were not associated with either Dowless or the BCIA PAC.
Step 2: Mass absentee ballot witnessing
So, both the Dowless group and people involved with the BCIA PAC conducted large-scale absentee ballot request operations, the first step in ballot harvesting identified by former SBE Executive Director Gary Bartlett. How about the second step identified by Barlett: having people from the organization visit those who received absentee ballots to sign as the necessary witnesses?
An analysis by WRAL last February in Bladen and Robeson counties found that both the “Dowless crew” and people associated with the BCIA PAC conducted large-scale ballot witnessing operations. As seen in Table 2, there were 301 ballot witnesses by people associated with Dowless through testimony or media accounts and 272 ballot witnesses by people associated with the BCIA PAC through testimony or financial reports. (The total number of ballots involved is less than 573 since absentee ballots require two witnesses.)
Step 3: Taking people’s ballots
As I previously noted, while large-scale absentee ballot requests and ballot witnessing by groups are part of ballot harvesting operations, they are not illegal by themselves. It is possible that a group could submit numerous absentee ballot requests and not follow up by witnessing ballots. It is also possible that a group could witness numerous ballots and not take that final step of taking possession of those ballots. Is there evidence that either of the groups in Bladen County took that final step?
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman believes there is enough evidence against Dowless to charge him. He was arrested along with six associates in late July. While most of the charges against him were for obstruction of justice and perjury, he was also charged with the illegal possession of an absentee ballot. He had previously been charged with two counts of illegal possession of absentee ballots in February.
Is there evidence that people paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association illegally took possession of absentee ballots? Yes.
On the first day of the State Board of Elections hearing concerning the 9th Congressional District, Precious Nicole Hall testified that she had received an absentee ballot in the mail even though she had not requested one. She further testified that two people, Lola Wooten and Sandra “Squeaky” Guions, came to her home after she had received her ballot and took it from her after she had completed it (Day 1 of hearing, pages 218-222). Figure 2 shows a copy of her ballot container envelope witnessed by Wooten and Guions. Both were paid by the BCIA PAC.
A reporter with WBTV found another incident in which two absentee ballots were illegally taken from Bladen County voters Raymond and Shirley Melvin. What Mr. Melvin described to the reporter fit the typical ballot harvesting pattern of political operatives filing absentee ballot requests, witnessing the ballots, and then taking those ballots.
That reviewed [sic] identified 110 covers where signed by either or both Lola Wooten and Deborah Monroe, two women who are listed as having been paid by the [Bladen County Improvement Association] PAC.
Two of those ballots were cast by Raymond Melvin and his wife Shirley.
Wooten signed both of the Melvins’ ballots. Raymond Melvin said they requested ballots because of her.
“The young lady, she come because we were saying we don’t vote,” he explained. “Well, then she said, ‘well you can do it like this right here.’”
Melvin said the absentee ballots came in the mail a few days after they filled out the request forms.
He said he and his wife held onto the ballots until Wooten came back to their house.
“They came back and made sure that we filled it out right,” Melvin said.
Raymond Melvin’s ballot container envelope is seen in figure 3. It is witnessed by Lola Wooten and Deborah Monroe, both of whom were paid by the BCIA PAC.
Then there is the case of James Purdie. An article from WBTV noted that he died at 7:30 a.m. on October 30, 2018 of aspiration pneumonia. His ballot was post marked that same day. It was witnessed by Lola Wooten and Sandra Guions (named as “Sandra Gines” in the article).
These are just examples taken from publicly available testimony and media accounts. Given the data patterns noted above, it is likely that investigators would be able to find many more cases of ballot harvesting done by people paid by the BCIA PAC.
If they bother to look.
Ballot harvesters paid with money from the NC Democratic Party
As I previously noted, the BCIA PAC received funding from the North Carolina Democratic Party federal account last year to help pay for its operations. In fact, of the $7,200 donated to the BCIA PAC in 2018, $6,000 came from the state Democratic Party (see figure 4).
The $6,000 the NC Democratic Party federal account paid the BCIA PAC in 2018 was not just a one-shot donation. The party had previously paid the BCIA PAC for the 2010, 2012, and 2016 elections (In an interesting twist, the state Democratic Party did not pay the BCIA PAC in 2014, but the Wake County Democratic Party did.)
Despite the ongoing flow of money between the state Democratic Party and the Bladen County Improvement Association, when asked by a reporter, NC Democratic Chairman Wayne Goodwin denied knowledge of any illegal activities by people paid by the BCIA PAC with that money. The report of Goodwin’s denial also included this interesting piece of information:
In the month leading up to the 2018 election, the NCDP gave the PAC a total of $6,000 from the state party’s federal account.
Records show that same NCDP federal account received a total of $100,000 from a fund associated with Dan McCready’s campaign for the 9th Congressional District.
The McCready Victory Fund distributed $60,000 and $40,000 to the NC Democratic Party’s federal fund in October of 2018.
So we may have found the answers to the questions I asked in the subtitle of my previous article: “Who is Lola Wooten and why is Dan McCready’s Lawyer trying to obscure her?
Here is the answer to the first question: Lola Wooten is someone who, as indicated by sworn testimony and media reporting, illegally took possession of voters’ ballots.
Here is the likely answer to the second question: Wooten and others involved in the Bladen County operation were paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association, which was in turn paid by the North Carolina Democratic Party Federal Account, which was in turn paid by the McCready Victory Fund.