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Wednesday, 31 January 2007 00:00

Swain election investigation could be two months away

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The North Carolina Election Board says it could be another month or two before someone can make the trip from Raleigh to Bryson City to look into complaints of illegal voter intimidation and improper handling of absentee ballots associated with November’s election.

 

“We will come up within the next couple of months,” said Johnnie McLean with the state elections office. “Surprisingly, we have other things that we do than just that.”

A couple living in a trailer park in Swain County say they were forced to apply for absentee ballots and vote a straight Democratic ticket under threat of eviction by the trailer park owner Philip Smith and a county commissioner candidate Glenn Jones. The couple says Jones and Smith took the ballots with them when they left. A postal worker says Jones came into the Bryson City post office on at least three occasions and mailed stacks of absentee ballots.

When asked what the state election board was working on that was more important than looking into the allegations, McLean said, “There are other duties that staff has to perform.”

The state election office has two staff members listed on its Web site as elections investigators, but have other cases they are working on, McLean said. The state election office provided a list of more than 75 active complaints. The most common involve campaign fundraising, political donations and financial reporting by candidates. Only a few involve actual voting issues, such as a complaint that convicted felons had been permitted to vote in one county.

The complaint out of Swain County is a late-comer on the list. The complaints were reported to the state more than two months after the incidents allegedly occurred. McLean questioned why they came in so late. The state election director Gary Bartlett has also questioned the belated timing of the complaints.

As of last Thursday, two weeks after the initial complaint had been filed with the state, the election office had not made an attempt to contact or locate the alleged victims. McLean said they had contacted the local Swain County election board, however. When asked whether the state had contacted the individuals accused of the illegal activity, McLean said she could not comment on any more details.

McLean said the two-month timeline should not be seen as a lack of commitment by the state election office.

“We take all the complaints we take seriously,” McLean said. Mclean said they might get around to looking into it sooner.

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