Handwritten notes show efforts to collect absentee ballots in exchange for money in Bladen Co.

Second absentee ballot operation uncovered

ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WBTV) - Handwritten notes obtained by WBTV suggest a second person ran an operation focused on absentee ballots in Bladen County in the 2018 primary election.

The notes came from two people who collected the sheet of paper after a meeting on April 8, 2018 to discuss efforts in the primary race for Bladen County Sheriff.

According to the two people who provided the notes to WBTV, the person who left the sheet of paper behind is Jeff Smith, a business owner and town commissioner in the county.

The two people who provided the notes to WBTV asked they not be identified to provide documents that could later become evidence in the ongoing investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

But the two people said they showed the notes the next day to a third person, Bladen County Commissioner Ray Britt.

Britt confirmed to WBTV on Tuesday that he reviewed the notes on April 9, 2018, and was told that they had been left behind at a meeting by Smith.

The handwriting in the notes obtained by the station appears to resemble several publicly filed court documents and other official paperwork bearing Smith’s handwriting.

The two people who attended the meeting at which Smith left the notes said Smith supported Billy Ward in the Republican Primary against incumbent Sheriff Jim McVicker.

Smith has had a years-long, public feud with McVicker regarding the Sheriff’s efforts to close down his sweepstakes business.

The notes left behind by smith specifically refer to receiving payment in exchange for collecting unsealed absentee ballots.

These handwritten notes were obtained by WBTV. Sources say the notes were taken by Jeff Smith regarding the primary election for Bladen County Sheriff.
These handwritten notes were obtained by WBTV. Sources say the notes were taken by Jeff Smith regarding the primary election for Bladen County Sheriff.

“Picking up existing ballots unsealed,” the top line of the sheet says, with the word “unsealed” underlined twice.

Below that line are two lines of notes showing payment of $500 for 150 ballots and $1,000 for 250 ballots.

The notes reference the same payment scheme for picking up new request forms from properly registered voters.

In a text message Tuesday afternoon, Smith told WBTV that he supported Ward in the primary but denied being paid to collect unsealed absentee ballots.

“I did not have an arrangement with the Billy Ward campaign to collect unsealed ballots period,” Smith said in a text message.

In response, a WBTV reporter sent Smith a copy of the notes and said the handwriting on the notes matched Smith’s handwriting on publicly available documents.

After receiving the picture from the WBTV reporter, Smith did not directly respond to the question of whether the notes belonged to him.

“I was a supporter of Billy Ward, and Hakeem Brown, as well as a friend of McCrae Dowless, who was working for Jim McVicker and Mark Harris,” Smith said.

Dowless has come under fire in recent weeks over questions surrounding work he did in promoting absentee voting for Mark Harris, a Republican who beat incumbent Congressman Robert Pittenger in the primary and Democrat Dan McCready in the general election for the 9th Congressional District.

Questions surrounding voter irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties has kept members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections from certifying the results of that race and others.

Last week, the board voted to hold an evidentiary hearing in the matter before the end of the year.

In a phone call Tuesday, Ward denied having an arrangement with Smith to collect absentee ballots in the primary.

“That’s strange. I’ve never heard of that because if it was going to be done wrong or unethical, sir, I wouldn’t have a part of it," Ward said, before further distancing himself from the activity.

“I would never do anything – much less have anybody tell anybody to do that, you know?" Ward said. "If they did it, they did it without my authorization without me even knowing.”

Smith would be the second person, in addition to Dowless, who has been publicly identified as working to promote and collect absentee ballots.

Questions surrounding absentee ballots in Bladen County have been the subject of a criminal investigation led by Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman since January 2017, Freeman confirmed earlier Tuesday.

Freeman said the investigation, which is being conducted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, still had a wide area of focus at this point.

“We are not limited to looking at one person,” Freeman said. “Certainly there are individuals of interest who I am not going to name at this point but we are not limited to just one person.”

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