Despite seeing evidence that members of the Bladen County Board of Elections may have violated a state law requiring that they remain neutral regarding candidates for public office, the NC State Board of Elections (SBE) decided not to hold hearings to investigate complaints against them.
The complaints were filed against Democratic board members Patricia Sheppard and Louella Thompson by Wayne Schaeffer, chair of the Bladen County Republican Party.
Here is the relevant statute (Schaeffer had used the old code, 163A-796, in his complaint):
No individual subject to this Article shall:
(1)Make written or oral statements intended for general distribution or dissemination to the public at large supporting or opposing the nomination or election of one or more clearly identified candidates for public office
It is important to note that these were preliminary hearings designed only to discover if there was sufficient evidence for the SBE to order a full evidentiary hearing.
Neither Schaeffer, Sheppard, nor Thompson spoke during the hearing, which took place by phone. However, Sheppard was represented by former SBE chair Josh Malcolm (yes, that Josh Malcolm).
The complaint against Thompson included copies of Facebook posts she made disparaging President Trump. However, disparaging a public official is not necessarily the same as speaking against that official’s reelection.
The complaint against Sheppard indicates that she went quite a bit further, making numerous statements against political opponents in Bladen County and others on public message boards such as on the webpage of the Bladen Journal. While most of her publicly available statements also fit in the unethical-but-not-necessarily illegal category, it also includes this gem (page 8):
I have not decided who I will support in 2020, but it will not be a racist, sexist, lying, adulterous, sexually deviant moron like Trump.
It is hard to imagine how the state board members could see that and not consider it enough evidence to at least have a hearing. But the board members voted 3-2 along party lines not to let either of the Bladen County complaints proceed. Despite his vote against proceeding, one of the Democrats on the board expressed his dismay at their conduct:
If this is how the state board makes decisions, I think they need more scrutiny, whether unwanted or not.
Perhaps to soothe his conscience, Carmon voted with the board’s two Republican members to hold a hearing on an unrelated ethics complaint from a different county.