Democratic Party chair, group’s attorney both deny knowledge of PAC workers collecting absentee ballots

Wayne Goodwin listens to a question from a reporter at a press conference at NC Democratic...
Wayne Goodwin listens to a question from a reporter at a press conference at NC Democratic Party Headquarters.
Updated: Dec. 11, 2018 at 5:40 PM EST
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party denied having any knowledge of actions taken by two men paid by a local political action committee in Bladen County at a press conference on Tuesday, despite receiving detailed questions from WBTV roughly a week earlier.

Goodwin took questions regarding the group, called the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC, at the end of a press conference regarding the ongoing questions surrounding absentee ballots in the 9th Congressional District election.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted last month to not certify the results of that contest, citing concerns with the use of absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson Counties. Since then, the board has voted to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue no later than December 21. That date could be pushed back if board staff is unable to gather all of the necessary evidence, according to a letter sent by NCSBE Chairman Joshua Malcolm on Monday night.

To date, much of the scrutiny surrounding absentee ballots has centered on a man named McRae Dowless, who was hired by the campaign of Republican Mark Harris to run a coordinated absentee ballot effort.

But WBTV has confirmed two additional coordinated absentee ballot efforts: one outlined in handwritten notes made by a local businessman and elected official named Jeff Smith and a third organized by the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.

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

Absentee ballot covers from the general election in Bladen County that were posted online by the NCSBE and reviewed individually by WBTV show two women paid for “G.O.T.V.” efforts by the PAC show the women witnessed a total of 110 ballots in the general election in Bladen County.

Two voters whose ballots were witnessed by a woman paid by the PAC told WBTV they voted in the presence of just one of the two women who signed their ballots as a witness and then gave their ballots to the women to be put in the mail.

State law requires both witnesses be present for the casting of votes in order to sign as a witness. It is also illegal to take possession of someone’s ballot if you are not their immediate family member.

Lawyer for Bladen Co. Improvement Association PAC denied absentee ballot operation

Neither woman who were paid by the PAC and who witnessed ballots have returned calls from WBTV seeking comment.

But in an interview on Tuesday afternoon, a lawyer for the organization said the PAC did not conduct a coordinated absentee ballot effort in the 2018 election.

“For the 2018 cycle, the Bladen County Improvement Association was not involved in promoting absentee ballots,” attorney Irving Joyner said. “Based on the experiences they had in 2016, they decided to forgo that element.”

Joyner did say the organization conducted training classes for individual members who wanted to assist people in the community cast their vote.

But, when a reporter explained to him the specific findings of a WBTV investigation, Joyner said he was unaware of them.

“Well, I haven’t seen that. My information was the Bladen County Improvement Association was not involved in the mobilization of absentee ballots,” Joyner said.

Specifically, we told him about the two women who had witnessed more than 100 ballots and the couple who described the situation by which one of the women helped them cast their absentee ballots that would constitute multiple violations of the law.

“It raises concern on my part and I’m going to inquire into it to find out what the truth of the matter is,” Joyner said.

‘I’m just hearing about this for the first time’

Campaign finance records reviewed by WBTV show the PAC has received a total of $21,500 from the North Carolina State Democratic Party.

In the month leading up to the 2018 election, the NCDP gave the PAC a total of $6,000 from the state party’s federal account.

Records show that same NCDP federal account received a total of $100,000 from a fund associated with Dan McCready’s campaign for the 9th Congressional District.

At first, Goodwin denied the organization was involved in absentee ballot efforts at all.

“Well, the Bladen County Improvement Association is a civil rights organization that’s focused on assisting elderly African-American citizens in casting their ballots,” Goodwin said. “And from what we know – again, we want to get to the bottom of all these things and that’s why it’s important to have this public evidentiary hearing but, from what we know, the Bladen County Improvement Association has done lawful work in the community and has ensured that vulnerable populations have the opportunity to make their voices heard.”

Faced with more questions from a WBTV reporter, Goodwin then claimed to be unaware of the allegations regarding specific actions of the two women paid by the PAC.

“Well, we need to know more information. I’m just hearing about this for the first time from you,” Goodwin said.

“We’ve been asking for you to comment on it for a week,” the reporter responded.

“Well, again, about the Bladen County Improvement Association, there are more affidavits that are coming forward. I think it’s vital for the entire process to look at the general election and for the Board that’s constituted now to conclude it’s very thorough and deliberate investigation on all these things and get to the bottom of your questions and all the others. I don’t have the answers to the questions you pose because I’m not an investigator,” Goodwin said.

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