‘I give it to them and they mailed it off’ Bladen absentee voter recounts casting his ballot

WBTV investigation reveals absentee ballot work done by Democrat-funded PAC

Documents show Bladen Co. PAC employees witnessed more than 100 absentee ballots

ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WBTV) - A review of absentee ballot covers for ballots cast in Bladen County in the 2018 general election show two people associated with the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC witnessed more than 100 absentee ballots.

An interview with one man who cast his ballot at the urging of a woman paid by the PAC suggests the organization may have collected and turned in absentee ballots in ways that violate the law.

WBTV confirmed the PAC’s absentee ballot efforts and tracked down donors through documents were posted by the North Carolina State Board of Elections as part of its investigation into ballot irregularities in the 9th Congressional District Election.

Specifically, investigators have focused on questions surrounding absentee ballots cast in Bladen County and Robeson County.

Much of the public scrutiny has revolved around a man named McCrae Dowless, who was paid by a company working for the Mark Harris Campaign.

In addition to Dowless, WBTV has identified two other coordinated efforts targeting absentee ballots.

Related: Records point to third coordinated absentee ballot effort in Bladen County

On Tuesday, the station obtained a page of handwritten notes reportedly written by local businessman and elected official Jeff Smith outlining an arrangement by which people would be paid for collecting unsealed absentee ballots.

The station has also identified two people with the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC who submitted more than 100 absentee ballot request forms each for the general election and who also received payment from the PAC for “G.O.T.V.”

The absentee ballot cover for the vote cast by Shirley Melton in 2018.
The absentee ballot cover for the vote cast by Shirley Melton in 2018. (Source: Ochsner, Nick)

On Thursday, WBTV reviewed each of the 796 ballot covers posted by the NCSBE as having been cast in Bladen County.

That reviewed identified 110 covers where signed by either or both Lola Wooten and Deborah Monroe, two women who are listed as having been paid by the PAC.

Two of those ballots were cast by Raymond Melvin and his wife Shirley.

Wooten signed both of the Melvins’ ballots. Raymond Melvin said they requested ballots because of her.

“The young lady, she come because we were saying we don’t vote,” he explained. “Well, then she said, ‘well you can do it like this right here.’”

Melvin said the absentee ballots came in the mail a few days after they filled out the request forms.

He said he and his wife held onto the ballots until Wooten came back to their house.

The absentee ballot cover for the vote cast by Raymond Melvin in 2018.
The absentee ballot cover for the vote cast by Raymond Melvin in 2018. (Source: Ochsner, Nick)

“They came back and made sure that we filled it out right,” Melvin said.

Specifically, Melvin told WBTV that one woman – Wooten—came to help them vote.

Wooten is signed as the first witness on both of the Wootens’ ballots. But the second witness is different on both ballots, despite the fact that they were cast at the same time.

Deborah Monroe is listed as the second witness on Raymond Melvin’s ballot cover.

A different woman whose name commonly appears as a second witness on other ballot covers signed by Wooten is listed as the second name on Shirley Melvin’s ballot cover.

Melvin said he made his candidate choices, sealed his ballot and gave it back to Wooten.

“I gave it to them and they mailed it off,” he said.

Wooten did not return a phone call seeking comment on Wednesday and a call Thursday night went to a recording that said a voicemail was not set up.

On Wednesday, Bladen County Commissioner Mike Cogdell--who was paid by the PAC for get out the vote efforts but is not one of the two PAC employees who signed as a witness on the absentee ballot covers reviewed by WBTV--said the organization was not involved in absentee ballot activities.

“We’ve been advised not to talk about this because some of the things that have been implied, we’ve been told it’s best to stay out it,” Cogdell said.

The most recent campaign finance disclosure report filed by the PAC lists just four contributors: the North Carolina Democratic Party Federal Account; Hakeem Brown, who ran for sheriff as a Democrat in 2018; Democrat school board member Vinston Rozier Sr.; and Ophelia Munn-Goins.

A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Democratic Party did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment early Thursday evening.

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