Election complaint will be appealed

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 16, 2004

WINDSOR – One of the two individuals whose legal protests lodged in the wake of the Bertie County Primary on July 20 said she will appeal the decision of the Bertie County Board of Elections.

On Friday, the Board, after listening to nearly two hours of testimony, dismissed two protests. Margaret Riddick, who contended that the curbside voting process at the Windsor 1 precinct was performed illegally on several occasions, said she would appeal a portion of her complaint to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

&uot;The whole (Bertie) Board need to be replaced,&uot; said Riddick following Friday’s hearings. &uot;They didn’t even address the portion of my complaint that dealt directly with them, but I don’t guess they could since it dealt with them. Someone else will have to investigate the Board of Elections here in Bertie County. They can’t investigate themselves.&uot;

In hindsight, Riddick said she should have lodged separate complaints – one for the alleged curbside voting irregularities and another for her gripes against the local Board.

Actually, Riddick filed three complaints, including one that alleged unaffiliated voters were not given a choice to cast a ballot for Democratic candidates. She said those voters were only allowed to take part in the Republican portion of the Primary.

&uot;I think some gave-up their right to vote,&uot; stressed Riddick. &uot;I felt compelled to report this. I felt it was my right to do so as well as my Christian duty.&uot;

However, at the heart of Riddick’s complaint was the curbside voting process. In her testimony, she said she witnessed one female voter being told that the area in which she parked to cast a curbside vote was not the location in which this particular process was being handled. She also testified that others were told they were in the wrong place.

&uot;You are saying that you saw several people drive-off after being told of this,&uot; asked Board of Elections member Michael Freeman.

&uot;Yes,&uot; replied Riddick.

&uot;You also said you saw one of those voters return,&uot; he inquired.

&uot;Yes, only one,&uot; was the reply. &uot;I saw others drive away. I can’t say that everyone received (curbside voting) service.&uot;

Windsor 1 poll worker Thomas Dudley testified that he erected curbside voting signs in front and on the side of the precinct area. Under a line of questioning from attorney Lloyd Smith, lawyer for the Board, Dudley said he did not purposely turn any curbside voter away nor did he deny anyone an opportunity to vote.

Dudley said one particular voter, Eddie Watford, did park at the curbside service area, but left prior to casting a ballot.

&uot;I guess he left because it was so busy at that time,&uot; testified Dudley. &uot;I don’t remember if he came back or not.&uot;

&uot;Did you see anyone else leave (the curbside area) prior to being offered service,&uot; asked Smith.

&uot;No,&uot; answered Dudley.

Watford, confined to a wheelchair, testified he did pull up to the curbside voting area and then drove away.

&uot;Was this because of anything that Mr. Dudley did or did not do,&uot; inquired Smith.

&uot;No, I got a cell phone call and had to leave,&uot; said Watford, who added that he returned approximately three hours later and voted.

Shirlie Davenport, Director of the Bertie County Board of Elections, said she recalled a conversation with Riddick on the day of the Primary (July 20) in regards to alleged problems. She said there was one curbside voting sign erected in front of the Windsor 1 precinct, the area designated for that voting process. Another curbside voter area was set-up on the side of the building, designated as a handicapped access area.

&uot;The law that in any election or referendum, if any qualified voter is able to travel to the voting place, but because of age or physical disability and physical barriers encountered at the voting place is unable to enter the voting enclosure to vote in person without physical assistance, that voter shall be allowed to vote either in the vehicle conveying that voter or in the immediate proximity of the voting place,&uot; said Davenport, citing from 163-166.9 of the North Carolina Board of Elections statutes.

Davenport testified that a total of 34 curbside voters were recorded at the Windsor 1 precinct. She added that a total of 74 curbside voters cast ballots countywide (12 precincts).

As far as the unaffiliated voting process is concerned, Davenport said it was up to the individual (unaffiliated) voter to inform the precinct worker if they want to take part in either the Democratic or Republican Primary.

Smith informed the Board that since Riddick was not formally challenging the outcome of the Primary in Bertie County nor was she asking for a recount of all ballots, the Board must determine, based on the testimony just heard, if there was any substantial violation of the voting process.

After a brief discussion with her counterparts, Board Chairwoman Lucille Drake-Harris informed the near-packed house at the Bertie Board of Commissioners room that Riddick’s protest was being dismissed on the grounds of lack of fact to cast doubt on the voting process.

Precinct worker dismissed

The second of the two protests was filed July 27 by Lottie Hoggard of Windsor. That too resulted in a dismissal, but not without a Bertie County precinct worker losing his position.

In her complaint, Hoggard – a relative of L.C. Hoggard Jr., an incumbent Bertie County Commissioner who narrowly won reelection on July 20 against challenger David Overton – said she went to the Indian Woods precinct on the morning of the Primary. She further stated she went as an observer for the Overton campaign.

While acting as an observer, Mrs. Hoggard said she witnessed several questionable practices. She alleged that the Chief Judge of the Indian Woods precinct, James Outlaw, took a printed object from the voter registration table and moved it outside the precinct. She also alleged witnessing another poll worker, Johnny Rascoe, in her words, &uot;moving his hands at the (voting) computer&uot; while individuals were in the process of voting. Another allegation dealt with the two poll workers – Mr. Cherry and Mr. Heckstall – located at the voter registration table. Over an approximate 90-minute period of time, Mrs. Hoggard said she watched as Cherry and Heckstall, in her words, &uot;handed slips of paper to each voter.&uot;

In the most damning of accusations, Mrs. Hoggard said that Outlaw, speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the precinct, told her, &uot;we have L.C. covered,&uot; apparently in reference to Commissioner L.C. Hoggard.

&uot;I guess he (Outlaw) thought that because I was related to L.C. Hoggard that I was a supporter of L.C and there was no need for me to be at the precinct,&uot; said Mrs. Hoggard. &uot;I was supporting Mr. Overton. That comment bothered me so much that I went home and went to bed.&uot;

Board member Carol Woodard inquired of Mrs. Hoggard of why, as an Overton supporter, she was inside the polling place. Woodard cited the 50-foot barrier rule in regards to her question. That rule states that campaign supporters must stand a minimum of 50 feet from the entrance to a polling place.

Mrs. Hoggard replied by stating the poll workers did show her the 50-foot line, but, &uot;I did not have any campaign literature to hand out. I was only there as a supporter.&uot;

Drake-Harris pointed out that even if Mrs. Hoggard did not pass out campaign literature, &uot;all observers (within a polling place) must be first approved by the local Board of Elections.&uot;

Apparently, Mrs. Hoggard did not gain prior approval.

In regards to the alleged slips of paper handed to each voter by Cherry and Heckstall, Smith inquired of Mrs. Hoggard if she was aware what was on the paper, to which Hoggard relied that she was unaware of that fact.

Later, Woodard held up a slip of paper – one with black, bold letters spelling Democrat. Mrs. Hoggard was asked if this what she saw being handed to the voters at the Indian Woods precinct. She said she did not know.

Woodard was attempting to show to Mrs. Hoggard that Cherry and Heckstall, as the poll workers at the voter registration table, are required to hand each voter a small card bearing the words, Democrat or Republican, in order for the poll worker at the voting computer to switch the device over in order to allow the voter to participate in the Primary election of their party of choice. Outlaw confirmed that it was Cherry’s and Heckstall’s responsibility to hand out those party affiliation cards.

In regards to Mrs. Hoggard’s allegation that Rascoe too closely involved with voters as they stood at the computer, Smith asked Hoggard if she heard Rascoe instructing an individual on which candidates to vote for.

&uot;No, but I saw his mouth and his hands moving,&uot; she answered. &uot;I just felt funny every time someone came in to vote and Mr. Rascoe stood with them.&uot;

Smith asked if Hoggard saw Rascoe touch the computer screen, to which she answered, &uot;No.&uot;

&uot;Did you hear any other poll official say anything in regards to instructing any voter on whom they should vote for,&uot; asked Smith.

&uot;No,&uot; replied Hoggard.

During his testimony, Rascoe answered negatively when asked had he handed out partisan cards instructing individuals on whom to vote for. He did say it was part of his responsibility, if asked, to offer assistance to a voter. He used the elderly voters as an example, saying they were unfamiliar with the technology of computer &uot;touch-screen&uot; voting.

&uot;I would show them how the computer worked,&uot; he noted. &uot;If they made a mistake and asked for my assistance, I would show them how to correct their mistake.&uot;

&uot;When asked for assistance, did you cast a vote for a candidate that was not the preference of the voter,&uot; Smith inquired.

&uot;No,&uot; answered Rascoe.

Rascoe testified that he assisted approximately 20-to-25 voters during the July 20 Primary.

When called to testify, Outlaw immediately addressed the allegation made by Mrs. Hoggard in regards to his moving a piece of paper from inside the polling place to an outside area. He said he did that because it was brought to his attention by a voter that the sample ballot normally placed at or near the entrance to a polling place did not contain all the names of the candidates. He said he used the sample ballot attached to the voter registration table to fill the void on the outside ballot.

In regards to his comment to Mrs. Hoggard that, in his words, &uot;we have L.C. covered,&uot; Outlaw said he did indeed say that publicly. When asked for his reason behind that statement, Outlaw said he was speaking as a private citizen.

&uot;Voters in Indian Woods have a history of voting for the incumbent,&uot; testified Outlaw. &uot;They stick with the incumbent.&uot;

&uot;In your training (as an elections official), were you instructed that you are a voting official (during an election) and not a private citizen,&uot; asked Smith.

&uot;I’m both,&uot; answered Outlaw.

After hearing the testimony in the second hearing, the Bertie Board of Elections issued a five-part response:

(1) Found no evidence that voters at the Indian Woods precinct were influenced by poll workers.

(2) There is a strong showing of partisan politics in regards to the statement made by Outlaw.

(3) Mrs. Hoggard should have not been allowed to be present inside the polling place as a campaign supporter.

(4) No evidence was shown that would cast doubt on the outcome of the election.

(5) James Outlaw will not be retained as an elections official.

All testimony at Friday’s two hearings was recorded by a certified court reporter. Smith said those tapes would be held in the possession of the Bertie County Board of Elections until a time when instructed by the State Board of Elections of what to do with them.