Primary protest dismissed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 26, 2004

WINDSOR – For the third time in two weeks, the Bertie County Board of Elections has dismissed a protest stemming from the July 20 Primary.

Meanwhile, for the second time in two weeks, a Bertie County precinct worker has suffered the consequences of a voter complaint.

Tuesday morning, the Bertie Board of Elections convened to formally hear a joint complaint from Sylvia McGee and Mary H. Pugh, both of Windsor. Pugh is the mother of McGee.

Their complaint was four-fold, each dealing with Windsor I precinct worker Thomas Dudley. McGee claimed that on July 20 when she arrived to cast her ballot as a curbside voter, Dudley made a partisan remark in reference to the Bertie County Commissioner race; did not provide her with an envelope in which to place her marked ballot; looked at her ballot as he walked away from the curbside voting area; and allegedly pulled an ink pen from his pocket and apparently made some sort of mark on her ballot.

McGee, who is handicapped, alleged that when Dudley arrived at the vehicle, driven by her mother and parked in the curbside voting area, in which she was a passenger, he made the remark, &uot;a lot of people here in Windsor want to vote for David Overton, but what we need to do is keep L.C. Hoggard.&uot;

Hoggard, currently Vice-Chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, edged Overton, former Windsor Town Administrator, by 194 votes in the Primary.

&uot;He shouldn’t have said that,&uot; noted McGee. &uot;It was totally inappropriate. He should have kept his opinion to himself.&uot;

As far as her other complaints were concerned, McGee made reference to the Constitutional amendment giving her the right to vote.

&uot;If I have the right to vote in privacy, then my vote should be kept private,&uot; she said.

Bertie County Board of Elections attorney Lloyd Smith questioned McGee on what happened as Dudley left the vehicle with the ballots (Pugh also voted at the curbside).

&uot;He walked about four steps away from the car and that’s when I saw him flipping the pages on the clipboard,&uot; testified McGee. &uot;I heard him grunt like he was displeased with the way we voted. He had no business looking at our ballots.&uot;

She said it was at this time that Dudley allegedly reached for his pen.

&uot;What did he do with the pen,&uot; inquired Smith.

&uot;He made a mark on the paper,&uot; she answered.

Smith then asked McGee of what action was she seeking from her complaint.

&uot;There have been enough complaints from this election to call for a new election,&uot; she stated.

Board of Elections member Michael Freeman inquired of McGee’s complaint concerning the ballot envelope.

&uot;You were not given one,&uot; quizzed Freeman.

&uot;He (Dudley) never came out with one,&uot; she answered.

&uot;Did you ask for one,&uot; Freeman asked, to which she replied, &uot;Yes, but he told me not to worry about it.&uot;

McGee went on to say that she felt her vote was not counted.

&uot;Can you prove to me it was counted,&uot; she asked.

&uot;Your (voter) affidavit shows that you voted,&uot; stated Lucille Drake-Harris, Chair of the Bertie Board of Elections.

&uot;Yes, but does it show who I voted for,&uot; inquired McGee.

Drake-Harris also inquired of what action McGee was seeking in her complaint.

&uot;There should be another primary for County Commissioner,&uot; stressed McGee. &uot;There are too many irregularities (from the Primary).&uot;

Pugh verified all of McGee’s complaints concerning Dudley. However, when asked what action she sought from her complaint, Pugh did not give a definitive answer.

&uot;I just ask the Board to do what is right,&uot; stated Pugh. &uot;Talk to your Board members. Talk to your precinct workers and get it right.&uot;

Bertie Board of Elections Director Shirlie Davenport was called to offer an explanation on curbside ballots. She said they were normal hand ballots that are counted by Board of Elections members after the polls close on the night of an election.

She testified that a total of 65 curbside ballots as well as an equal number of affidavits and envelopes were delivered for use at the Windsor I precinct. Of that amount, 38 were used while 27 others were returned as unused.

Smith inquired of Davenport if she noticed any of the used curbside ballots from the Windsor I precinct that appeared to be erased or marked twice. She answered that none appeared to be erased, but could not recall if any seemed to be marked more than once. She said those ballots were at the Board of Elections office and volunteered to briefly leave the proceedings in order to produce those ballots.

Before leaving to pick-up the ballots, Davenport presented Smith copies of the signed affidavits by McGee and Pugh to verify that they voted in the July 20 Primary.

While Davenport made her way to the Elections office, Dudley was summoned to offer testimony. He testified that he remembered seeing McGee and Pugh at the Windsor I curbside voting area on July 20, but adamantly denied all the accusations they lodged against him.

&uot;You are saying that you did not make a statement to them in regards to which candidate you would like to see elected,&uot; asked Smith.

Dudley, a veteran 16-year precinct worker, said he made no such remark. He also said he did not look at or make any type of mark on either McGee’s or Pugh’s ballot. He also said he placed the ballots in an envelope as he made his way from the vehicle back towards the front door of the precinct.

&uot;Are there any bad feelings between yourself, McGee and Pugh,&uot; inquired Smith.

&uot;Not on my behalf,&uot; he answered.

&uot;If there aren’t any bad feelings, then why are they saying these things about you,&uot; Smith asked.

&uot;Because they want another election,&uot; Dudley replied.

Davenport then returned with the July 20 curbside ballots – a total of 74 from all of the county’s precincts. In a scene perhaps reminiscent from the Florida recount during the 2000 General Election, the Board of Elections members and Davenport gathered around Smith as he surveyed each of the 74 ballots. One-by-one, he studied the ballots, calling out the name of the candidate marked on each, if the mark was made by using a pen or a pencil and whether or not it appeared the mark had been erased or altered. In Smith’s opinion, one backed-up by the Board and Davenport, none of the ballots appeared altered in any fashion.

Upon directing the Board to base their findings of the protest strictly upon fact, Smith noted there was a stark contrast in the testimony provided by McGee/Pugh and Dudley.

Following a brief recess, the Board dismissed the protest based upon there was no evidence of tampering of the curbside ballots or was there evidence presented that would cast doubt on the outcome of the Bertie Primary.

In a related judgment, the Board – based upon the statements from McGee and Pugh – suspended Dudley as an elections official for the remainder of the year.

McGee said she would appeal the outcome to the State Board of Elections.

&uot;Did you see the way they (the Board) was up there laughing and smiling,&uot; said McGee following the two-hour hearing. &uot;They think this is amusing because they know they’re in power. I don’t find it funny at all.&uot;

She added that a portion of her appeal will deal with something not proven at Tuesday’s hearing.

&uot;The curbside ballots are apparently not in any type of numerical sequence,&uot; she concluded. &uot;They brought 74 ballots up there and put them on the table, but they never showed me my ballot. My question is are those the actual ballots.&uot;

On Aug. 13, the Bertie Board of Elections dismissed protests filed by Margaret Riddick and Lottie Hoggard. During that hearing, James Outlaw, Chief Judge at the Indian Woods precinct, was released as an elections official due to a partisan comment he made in regards to the (L.C.) Hoggard-Overton race.