A Bladen Co. voter died before election day. His absentee ballot still counted

Man dies before election day, vote counted

ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WBTV) – A Bladen County voter’s absentee ballot was submitted and counted in the 2018 general election, even though he died before election day.

State law says a voter must be eligible to vote on election day—in this case, the voter must be alive—in order for an absentee ballot to be eligible to be counted.

“The requirement to vote is based on election day,” Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said. “So, if you’re no longer alive before election day, then you, technically, would not be qualified to vote.”

WBTV identified James Purdie as having voted in the general election despite having died when we compared the voter registration numbers of those who cast an absentee ballot in the 2018 general election with active voters in the Bladen County voter file.

Purdie lived in the 7th Congressional District, not the 9th District, which is currently the subject of intense scrutiny after the NCSBE voted to not certify the results of the race, citing potential election fraud.

Purdie’s death certificate shows he died at 7:30 a.m. on October 30, 2018. His cause of death is aspiration pneumonia, a condition where fluid gradually builds up in someone’s lungs and restricts their ability to breath.

Purdie’s absentee ballot cover shows his vote was witnessed on October 29, 2018, though there is no date next to his voter signature. North Carolina law prohibits a voter’s actual signature from being made public, so WBTV was unable to inspect the actual signature and compare it to a sample of his previous signatures.

The postmark on the absentee ballot envelope cast by James Purdie shows it was sent October 30, 2018, the same day he died.
The postmark on the absentee ballot envelope cast by James Purdie shows it was sent October 30, 2018, the same day he died.

The postmark on the reverse side of his absentee ballot envelope is October 30, 2018, the same day he died.

There is no indication of who put Purdie’s ballot in the mail.

The ballot was witnessed by Lola Wooten and Sandra Gines, two women paid for election work by the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC in the 2018 general election, campaign finance reports show.

The absentee ballot cover for James Purdie's 2018 general election ballot shows it was witnessed by Lola Wooten and Sandra Gines on October 29, 2018.
The absentee ballot cover for James Purdie's 2018 general election ballot shows it was witnessed by Lola Wooten and Sandra Gines on October 29, 2018.

Wooten is also listed as having assisted Purdie in filling out his ballot.

WBTV sent a request for comment regarding this story to attorney Irving Joyner, who has previously spoken on behalf of both Wooten and the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.

Joyner did not respond.

Given Purdie’s cause of death, which included a condition associated with a gradual deterioration of one’s health as opposed to a sudden death, it is not clear whether he was capable of casting a ballot on October 29, 2018.

Gannon, the NCSBE spokesman, said elections officials are rarely able to catch someone’s absentee ballot who died before election day because of the time it takes to process death records.

But, he said, that doesn’t mean their ballot is supposed to count.

“It’s kind of on the honor system. If there’s a protest lodges with the county or a challenge to a voter, it could be uncovered that way,” he said.

Gannon also said it would be unlawful for someone to turn in an absentee ballot—either in-person or by mail—knowing that voter had died.

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