- The 2018 ballot harvesting in Bladen County is hardly the only case of 21st-century election fraud in North Carolina
- Cases in several North Carolina counties reveal a variety of ways political operatives can commit election fraud
- Both citizens and government officials must be vigilant to help prevent election fraud
Most North Carolinians are familiar with the ballot harvesting that was conducted in Bladen County in 2018 by people paid by McCrae Dowless and people paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association. So far, nobody has been prosecuted for that election fraud. In addition, former NC State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett noted that he had sent “more than half a dozen” reports of organized absentee ballot fraud operations to prosecutors, none of which went to trial. Such official indifference to election fraud has allowed the problem to fester.
The three cases presented here, in Swain, Yancey, and Robeson counties, are just a sample of North Carolina’s 21st-century election fraud cases but are presented here to give examples of the practices election officials and prosecutors must root out of our election system.
(I made a public records request for documents regarding the Swain and Yancey county cases listed below on October 2. They have acknowledged receiving the requests but have not yet acted on them.)
Ballot harvesting by political leaders (Swain County, 2006)
Swain County Commissioner Chairman Glen Jones and several political associates allegedly ran a ballot harvesting operation during the 2006 election. They illegally took possession of voters’ absentee ballots, mailing at least some of them in batches in the Bryson City Post Office, as testified by a postal worker (Smoky Mountain News):
That during the month of October 2006, Glenn Jones, of Swain County came to the US Post Office in Bryson City, where I am an employee, on several occasions over several days with multiple absentee envelopes on each occasion. He typically purchased postage stamps, applied them to the absentee envelopes and gave them over to me to be canceled and placed in the mail to the Swain County Board of Elections.
One resident, Rhonda Bedsaul, said that her vote had been coerced (Smoky Mountain News):
Upon receiving an absentee ballot in the mail from the board of elections, Philip Smith and Glenn Jones came back to my residence and insisted that I vote the ballot I received in their presence. They both stood over me and directed me to mark only the item for straight Democrat ticket. I was not allowed to mark any other choices on the ballot.
Jones also targeted an assisted living facility to harvest ballots, including from one resident who later didn’t remember voting.
Over 120 ballots were affected by the scheme.
(Such election problems continue in the area. An election audit found ballot tampering in the 2017 general election of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (partially located in Swain County) in which “Seventy-eight votes just mysteriously showed up” (pages 4-5).)
Sheriff’s office workers rounding up illegal votes (Yancey County, 2010)
It is not unusual that several people still serving their felony sentence illegally voted in Yancey County in 2010; an NC State Board of Elections audit of the 2016 election found “441 open cases of voting by suspected active felons” (page 2). It is also not unusual for people with criminal convictions to vote; convicted felons have their voting rights restored once they have completed their sentences (including probation or parole). But things start getting weird when you find that employees of the Yancey County Sheriff’s Office were involved in witnessing the ballots of convicted criminals in an election in which their boss was trying to be reelected, raising the question of whether those who voted “wanted to vote or were pressured to do so.” It is easy to see how pressure could be applied since several sheriff’s office employees witnessed the ballots of those convicted criminals.
(The sheriff’s office employees could have just as easily been present while ballots were being marked if there was not a witness requirement for absentee ballots; the witness requirement just helped document that those employees were there when the former convicts marked their ballots.)
One Yancey County Sheriff’s Office employee, Capt. Judy Ledford, witnessed dozens of ballots, including those of convicted criminals. The Yancey County News also found how sheriff’s office employees were illegally handling absentee ballots (Yancey County News):
Five residents told the newspaper that Ledford had acted as witness for their ballot and taken the ballot with her when she left. Three of them said Ledford provided the ballots, while another said “it was brought to me” but declined to say Ledford provided it…
If the voters’ accounts are accurate, they describe how a high-ranking county employee invested considerable time and effort to secure verifiable votes in an election in which her boss – a sheriff who had inherited the job on the retirement of his father, the former sheriff – was facing a strong challenger.
It is illegal for anyone other than the voter or a near relative to possess the voter’s ballot. It is also illegal for anyone other than the county board of elections to transmit a ballot to a voter. Perhaps relatedly, the Yancey County Board of Elections voted to dismiss Elections Director Loretta Robinson for “violations of law and conduct.”
Back to the illegal voting by felons, there was one highly unusual thing about it (Yancey County News):
Soon after the details of the illegal votes were documented in the newspaper, one of the felons who illegally voted came to the offices of the Yancey County News to complain about the story. When it was pointed out to him that the report was true and accurate, he told to a newspaper employee that he had voted illegally because then-chief deputy Tom Farmer had approached him and offered to reduce charges that had been filed against him in return for his vote.
Sheriff Gary Banks won his 2010 bid for reelection by just 325 votes out of 9,395 votes cast.
Using same-day registration to illegally register ineligible voters (Robeson County, 2013)
As was the case in Bladen County in 2018, a 2013 election in the town of Pembroke in Robeson County featured an arms race of election fraud with both incumbent Allen Dial and challenger Theresa Locklear being accused of election fraud in their nonpartisan city council race. This one involved both candidates allegedly hauling in ineligible voters and taking advantage of same-day registration to add some of those ineligible voters to the voter registration rolls (WRAL):
The board reviewed evidence that at least two candidates helped bring people to the town’s early voting location who were ineligible to vote. Some of those people, including several young men who came from out of state to attend a basketball program, managed to cast ballots because they were mistakenly registered during one-stop absentee voting.
Those illegal registrations were eventually discovered but not before their ballots had been counted.
Along with basketball players visiting from out-of-state, another group targeted to be hauled in for ineligible voting were former public housing residents, many of whom were intimidated from participating in the investigation.
Election officials know that those who wish to commit election fraud are aware of the vulnerability of same-day registration (WRAL):
Steve Stone, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Elections, said one-stop voting was a major cause of problems during the 2013 election, as well as prior elections.
“There’s been a playbook that was written in 2005 (when one-stop voting first started), and every election since someone else seems to get a hold of it,” Stone said.
The State Board of Elections eventually ordered a new election over the voting fraud allegations.
These examples of 21st-century election fraud cases in North Carolina should serve as a warning to voters and election officials that we must be vigilant about watching for attacks on the integrity of our elections. In addition, prosecutors must start to take election fraud cases seriously if we are ever going to root it out.