#CarolinaChaos: Bladen County’s Ballot Backstory

This article first appeared at American Lens News on November 17, 2016. 

As previously reported, a protest has been filed in Bladen county alleging that hundreds of fraudulent absentee ballots were cast. The protest was filed by Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor McCrae Dowless, a Democrat.

We learned from the Dowless filing that the Bladen County Improvement PAC had employed several individuals for the purpose of Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, which included assisting voters with absentee ballots.

  • Mary Johnson, witness for 74 ballots, $450
  • Lola Wooten, witness for 58 ballots, $500
  • Deborah Cogdell, witness for 45 ballots (including both witnesses on 1 ballot), $300
  • Bridgette Keaton, witness for 16 ballots, $630

The current complaint had implications that fraudulent ballots were cast for not only local races but perhaps for Council of State races such as Governor and Treasurer as well as ramifications for the Supreme Court race.

Bladen County was once part of the infamous region controlled by now-retired Democratic State House member turned North Carolina Senate Leader R.C. Soles, Jr.

Soles, who was indicted in 1983 by undercover FBI agents in a sting operation known as “ColCor” for bribery, vote buying, conspiracy, and other charges, was never shy about his dominant control of the region. The legends of R.C. Soles would make Louisiana Governor Huey B. Long blush.

However, Soles eventually got a Judge to drop most of the charges against him as he cooperated in the case. Others went to prison. The Senator, famous for his heavy-handed approach to the southeast portion of the state, was also the State’s longest serving Senator. Many locals still refer to the area as “R.C. Soles’ country.”

While Bladen county has a mafia-esque history and is also apparently no stranger to election influencing and related complaints.

In October of 2010, WWAY TV3 did a series which covered the Bladen County Improvement PAC and its apparent influence on local elections. The report included concerns from a citizen over the PAC’s influence over elections in the county by means of pre-filled in sample ballots favoring the PAC’s contributors :

“Instead, the only thing Callihan sees this group do is work to influence the outcome of elections. A copy of a sample ballot committee workers handed out during the last election was already filled out for some of its regular contributors, like Gore and County Commissioners W.D. Neill and Albert Beatty.”

The 2010 WWAY report also mentions high-profile Democrat candidates like R.C. Soles and Kay Hagan having ties to the organization.

Bladen-County-BOEGround Hog Day in Bladen County  

In 2012, a protest similar to the 2016 Dowless protest was filed by Democrat Robert Brooks, a candidate for the Bladen County Commission in District 1. Brooks’ complaint centered on the May 8th primary races and questioned multiple witness signatures on absentee ballots.

That complaint questions the signatures of multiple people:

  • Carol Graham (21 ballots)
  • Lola Wooten (16 ballots)
  • Horace Munn (5 ballots)

At the time of the 2012 complaint by Brooks, Horace Munn was the President of the Bladen County Improvement PAC. Lola Wooten was also named in the 2016 Dowless filing.

The 2012 complaint also described a situation where a person named Leon Johnson was overheard saying he was, “promised wine” for his vote by a man named Mike Cogdell. Johnson was seen leaving a polling place with Cogdell. Mr. Cogdell currently is a member of the Bladen County Board of Commissioners. It is unclear if the woman named Deborah Cogdell mentioned in the 2016 Dowless filing is a relative of Michael Cogdell.

Another account in the 2012 complaint was the report from a man named Tony Jones indicating that Lola Wooten had gone to the Elizabethtown Health Rehabilitation Center multiple times to look for absentee ballots and so she could “fill out his ballot for him.” Wooten is also named in the 2016 Dowless complaint.

The complaint also contained many ‘irregularities’ in the completion of ballots such as individuals being paid for votes and family members filling out absentee ballots for others without their knowledge.

Even more troublesome was the report that a poll worker named Deborah Ann Monroe had openly been encouraging voters not to vote for Mr. Brooks and making slanderous remarks about Brooks. Monroe was also named in the 2016 Dowless protest filing for, “apparently personally validating at least 67 mail-in absentee ballots, appears to have written in “Franklin Graham” as a write-in candidate at least 71 times.”

Brooks’ protest was not the only one filed in Bladen County during the May 2012 primaries. A second one was filed by Matthew J. Dixon who ran for the General Assembly District 22 House seat. This second complaint included attorneys Michael Weisel, William Gilkerson and Sabre Faires who, at the time of the complaint, were associated with the firm Bailey and Dixon.

The Dixon complaint was eventually dismissed, but just like the current 2016 protest complaint, implicates GOTV efforts funded by the Bladen County Improvement PAC. Outlined in the complaint were GOTV “runners”, who were persons employed by the PAC to go out into the community and aid in the completion of absentee ballots.

The Dixon complaint alleged that some of these runners were engaging in vote-buying with money or alcohol and that there was “interference” with the proper procedures for handling absentee votes.

Of particular interest is the way these runners subtly influenced the voters they were assisting. The complaint states that these runners would offer sample ballots to voters as an example of how a completed ballot appeared. The names of candidates which had donated to the Bladen County Improvement PAC already had their circle already filled in on these sample ballots.

The Dixon filing backs up the Brooks filing on the topic of witnessing of the absentee ballots and runners filling in ballots for some voters. The Dixon filing states that “In all, four people witnessed 54 absentee ballots or 23% of all absentee ballots cast in Bladen County.”

54 ballots may not seem like a large number, but it can take just one to swing a race and constitutes a serious threat to the integrity of our election system.

Read the 2012 Brooks-Dixon Protest Filing*.

*This document was first located via Civitas Institute.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips: APDillon@Protonmail.com
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