BLADEN — Bladen County Board of Elections officials say there are a suspicious number of write-in votes with “overtly similar” handwriting cast in the Nov. 8 election in the county.
The nearly 300 write-ins were for Democrat Franklin Graham in the race for Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor, but also contained votes for other Democrats, including Attorney General Roy Cooper, running for county and statewide seats.
The problem was discovered when Bladen County absentee ballots filed Oct. 18 were processed by hand on Nov. 1 and handwriting similarities raised suspicion among observers.
“With the ones found on Nov. 1, I believe there are an overwhelming number of occurrences already to review and investigate,” said James Hehl, a member of the Bladen County Board of Elections, in a letter to the N.C. State Board of Elections.
The Republican running for Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor, McCrae Dowless, has filed a formal protest with the Bladen County Board of Elections to challenge the several hundred ballots, claiming they appear to be fraudulent.
The protest outlines the names of five people who filled out and witnessed dozens of absentee ballots each, most without indicating required voter assistance. According to financial disclosure forms filed with the State Board of Elections, those witnesses also received hundreds of dollars for G.O.T.V. (Get-Out-The-Vote) efforts from the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC, which lists the North Carolina Democratic Party as its primary donor. Dowless is calling for the ballots to be invalidated.
“The described allegations clearly demonstrate a pattern of fraudulent ballots cast for the election held on Nov. 8 in Bladen County,” reads the protest. “The fraud appears to have been intended to influence the outcome of the Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor’s race. However, a ballot deemed fraudulent must similarly not be counted for any office voted.”
The Bladen County Board of Elections and the state Boards of Elections are investigating the protest and allowed the questionable ballots to be reviewed by a forensics document examiner. According to the protest, the expert confirmed the ballots appear to have been written by the same people, but the formal report on that review is due to be submitted when it is complete.
“With hundreds of fraudulent votes found in just one North Carolina county for a straight Democratic ticket, close examination of this election is required to make sure the true winner of the election is properly determined,” Jason Torchinsky, legal counsel for the Pat McCrory Committee Legal Defense Fund, said in a press release from the campaign detailing the protest. “The staggering evidence of voter fraud in Bladen County and the number of similar PACs that the North Carolina Democratic Party donated to shortly before the start of early vote requires close examination throughout the state.”
The protest comes as the State Board of Elections and the SBI are investigating other voting irregularities in Durham County. In addition, approximately 93,000 additional ballots were filed in the 11th hour on election night, pushing Democrat and Attorney General Roy Cooper into the lead in the gubernatorial race by less than 5,000 votes.
The Durham Board of Elections will hold a hearing later Wednesday to review a request for a hand-recount of those ballots.