The Bladen County Board of Elections met on Tuesday afternoon and discussed several matters including an investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Board of Elections Chairman, Bobby Ludlum opened the meeting and noted that minutes of the previous meeting were not available. He then told the board that a letter of complaint had been sent to the State BOE in Raleigh following the last meeting and a letter has been received from the State.
According to Ludlum the letter contained 7 items. He read the first item which states that the State BOE has received complaints concerning absentee ballot irregularities and these complaints are under investigation.
He also told the board that a letter has been sent to the State BOE regarding an incident that took place at the Bladen County Public Library involving Michael Cogdell. Bladen County Board of Elections Director Cynthia Shaw said she had not received a response back regarding that complaint.
Board member, Brain Hehl, requested that Ludlum return to the letter received from the State Board of Elections and go over each item listed in the letter. Ludlum went back to the letter and began to address each item. He noted the first item, irregularities involving absentee ballots had been accepted by the State and will be investigated.
The second item in the letter regarded the keeping of minutes by the local Board of Elections.
Hehl said he has heard from several members of the community who are concerned about the lack of minutes for Board of Elections meetings. In reference to recording of the minutes, Hehl said, “That falls back on you Al as we absolved Cynthia (Shaw) of that.”
Al Daniels, Secretary of the local Board of Elections, said that he personally questioned the legitimacy of the board’s action in absolving Shaw of the duty of keeping the board’s minutes. Hehl said the decision was made by a majority vote. He reminded Daniels of the motion to absolve Shaw of the responsibility of keeping the minutes made by Hehl and Ludlum seconded it.
Daniels attempted to argue keeping of the minutes is not his responsibility as Secretary of the Board of Elections. Hehl pointed out that the letter received from the State Board of Elections noted the Secretary has the right to delegate the duty of keeping the minutes. Hehl noted that the attorney sent a copy of the statute.
“Have we followed that? Has it been on the agenda for discussion?” asked Daniels.
After further discussion, Daniels suggested the board members go back and “recap the minutes” from the past meetings and he would approve them.
“So, as Secretary, you are saying we are going to do your minutes for you and you will approve it?” said Hehl.
“What I am saying is the two of you made a decision to suspend an assigned duty,” said Daniels.
Hehl explained that after multiple times of Daniels criticizing the minutes and claiming they were incomplete the decision was made to allow Daniels to keep the minutes.
“You don’t assign me any responsibilities. Neither one of you is my supervisor,” said Daniels.
Finally, Daniels suggested the keeping of minutes be placed on the agenda for discussion at the next meeting.
The third item in the letter regarded access to the Board of Elections Director. The letter states that all members of the Board of Elections should have equal access to the Director to raise concerns but discussion of those concerns should take place in the presence of all board members and minutes must be taken.
Item four involved a complaint about a lack of privacy curtains in the polling sites in Bladenboro and East Arcadia. Ludlum said that issue has been resolved with the understanding that none of the voting stations have curtains.
Daniels questioned when the board made the decision to not utilize privacy curtains in the voting stations. He pointed out the current board did not make such a decision. The response was a prior board had made the decision, and Daniels requested to the see the minutes where a prior board had voted to remove curtains from the stations.
A motion was made and seconded to leave the curtains down.
Daniels again requested to see the minutes where a decision was reached regarding curtains in the voting stations.
After another exchange between Hehl and Daniels regarding the keeping of the minutes, Daniels said he was delegating the duty of keeping the minutes to Shaw retroactively.
Ludlum moved on to address Item five which discusses the opening of absentee ballots. He noted the State’s letter notes the opening of absentee ballots should be done under supervision of the board of elections following statutory guidelines after a review of the ballots envelopes by the board.
Item six of the letter dealt with an issue of handwriting associated with the write-in votes for candidates. According to the complaint some of the absentee ballots with write in votes appeared to be the same handwriting. Ludlum said this issue is under investigation by the state.
“Is there any particular reason why I was not included in that decision?” said Daniels.
“You made the motion,” said Hehl.
Daniels then questioned why the complaint regarding the handwriting issue was submitted separately from the complaint regarding irregularities in the absentee ballots.
Ludlum replied that he thought Daniels had been informed.
Item seven regarded a request from the Bladen County Board of Elections on how to proceed with additional absentee ballots. The answer is to process them per the normal process used by the local board according to the board’s discussion.
Shaw said she had a letter from the State board in Raleigh directing the local board to copy the envelopes in question and scan the ballots and the investigators will visit Bladen County.
Democratic Party Chairman Ben Snyder was in attendance and asked if the board could post signs regarding concealed weapons in the polling locations. The board of elections leases polling locations from the owners. Ludlum said that was an issue that is beyond the board of elections control.
The next board of elections meeting will be Monday afternoon at 4 p.m.