Records show NCSBE Chair had frequent contact with figure in NC-09 investigation during ’18 election

Possible conflict of interest in District 9 investigation

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) – Records show the immediate past Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections had frequent contact in the days leading up to the 2018 general election with a Bladen County Democrat who is among those interviewed by NCSBE investigators.

Joshua Malcolm, a Democrat lawyer from Robeson County, chaired the NCSBE until it was dissolved by a three-judge panel in late December.

Prior to taking over a chair in early December, Malcolm served as vice chair. In that role, he made the motion in late November to not certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race, alluding to voting irregularities in comments he made preceding the motion.

“I’m very familiar with unfortunate activities that have been happening down in my part of the state,” Malcolm said at a November 27, 2018 meeting of the NCSBE. “And I am not going to turn a blind eye to what took place, to the best of my understanding, which has been ongoing for a number of years.”

Since that initial motion to not certify the race, investigators with the state board have launched a months-long investigation into allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson Counties.

WBTV has learned Malcolm was in frequent communication with Jens Lutz, a Bladen County Democrat whose name has emerged in several ways as the current investigation has unfolded.

Lutz—who has a lengthy arrest record in counties across the state, including a conviction for impersonating a police officer—served as vice chairman of the Bladen County Board of Elections during the 2018 election.

He resigned suddenly from that position in early December, days after he was questioned by NCSBE investigators.

Lutz also once owned a political consulting business with McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative who worked for Mark Harris’ campaign for Congress in 2018 who is accused of running an illegal ballot harvesting operation.

WBTV requested records of all communication—including text messages and phone records—between Lutz and Malcolm after multiple sources in Bladen County raised questions of the relationship between the two men.

Initially, an NCSBE attorney produced two screenshots of text messages between Malcolm and Lutz and said that constituted the entirety of communication records between the two men.

Specifically, the board attorney confirmed there were no phone records documenting calls between the two men when asked by WBTV.

“I have inquired about that specifically, but no other public records are responsive to the request to the best of our knowledge,” the NCSBE attorney said when asked to certify that there were no phone records.

But the text messages produced by Malcolm suggested there were phone records.

Ultimately, Malcolm agreed to produce phone records of calls between him and Lutz only after a WBTV reporter threatened to refer the matter to the station’s attorneys.

At first, Malcolm produced a phone log that detailed four calls between the two men between April and late November; three of which were initiated by Lutz calling Malcolm.

NCSBE staff produced a revised call log one day later that showed a total of eight calls between the two men, including three calls initiated by Malcolm in the days leading up to and on Election Day.

WBTV was not able to learn the nature of the phone calls between Malcolm and Lutz because Malcolm refused to do an interview for this story or otherwise answer questions about the nature of his communication with Lutz.

But the text messages exchanged between the two men suggest the topics included in the communication included concern for activities related to the 2018 election.

“During that meeting some troubling issues came up, so if you have time call me tomorrow. Thanks,” Lutz texted Malcolm on June 10.

There is no record that Malcolm called Lutz the next day but other text messages suggest there were phone calls between the two men that were not included in the records produced by Malcolm.

Another time, on October 2, Lutz called Malcolm late in the morning and Malcolm followed up with a text message several hours later.

“I spoke w/ Joan Fleming at the SBEEE. Please contact her to chat through and she may have additional questions,” Malcolm said.

The text messages and phone records show Malcolm and Lutz continued to talk even after Lutz was referred to board staff.

On October 17, Lutz asked Malcolm to call him early that morning. The two eventually spoke that evening.

The next set of communication came on November 3, 5, and 6, when Malcolm called Lutz.

Before producing the records in response to a request from WBTV, Malcolm had never previously disclosed the fact that he had communication with a Bladen County official regarding allegations of impropriety, including when the board was asked to disclose any facts that could raise a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest at the start of its November 27 meeting at which the board decided to not certify the 9th Congressional District race.

In an emailed statement, a NCSBE spokesman said there was nothing unusual about the communication between Malcolm and Lutz.

“It is commonplace for county board members to communicate with State Board members on a variety of issues in the course of their service,” Spokesman Pat Gannon said.

“Elections officials have a statutory mandate to investigate ‘frauds and irregularities in elections.’ We would expect State and County Board members to share information about potential wrongdoing in elections with State Board investigators,” the statement continued.

Gannon did not respond to a follow-up email seeking clarification on the fact that Malcolm is not a NCSBE investigator.

Lutz sent two text messages in response to a request for comment for this story regarding his communication with Malcolm.

“That’s fine but if you check my educational records from Montgomery community college, you will find that I graduated from BLET the allegations were made by two teenagers and pressed by Republicans in that county while I was up for County Democratic chair. It boiled down to them omitting the word training from their testimony. No little blue lights, badges or car just words and political pressure, kind of like what’s going on here. A 30 year old misdemeanor!” Lutz said regarding is 1990 conviction for impersonating a police officer.

He later followed up with a second text message.

“You can add this also. If trying to clean up corruption means dragging my name through the mud, then so be it. Just another Republican attempt to deflect the truth,” he said.

Lutz said he could not detail the nature of his conversations with Malcolm, citing the ongoing NCSBE investigation.

Following the initial publication of this story, North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse issued a statement criticizing Malcolm for not making this information public before making the motion to not certify the 9th District race.

“This report brings into question the legitimacy of this entire investigation," Woodhouse’s statement said in part. "If there were legitimate concerns about issues in Bladen County, why did he simply not tell the board’s staff?”

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