BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - They voted, but many in Bladen County are now concerned their vote did not count.
Hundreds packed into First Baptist Church in Bladenboro Tuesday night for an information meeting on the alleged election fraud taking place in the county.
The event was hosted by Democracy North Carolina, Progress North Carolina Action, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC NAACP, NC Black Alliance, and Blueprint NC.
The meeting began with comments from Marcus Bass of the NC Black Alliance.
“We come together to let Raleigh and the rest of the country know we will not stand silent while our votes are not being counted,” Bass said.
Allison Riggs, a senior attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice gave a presentation on the alleged wrongdoing, saying election fraud was committed long before the 2018 elections.
Siting voting records and voter registration documents, Riggs said the number of unreturned ballots in Bladen County indicated a problem. Riggs reported 358 absentee by mail ballots were not returned in Bladen County for the 9th Congressional District Race. Riggs pointed out a high concentration of the unreturned ballots came from the Bethel, Bladenboro #1, Bladenboro #2, and Elizabethtown #1 precincts. All are areas with large concentrations of minority voters.
“There’s a racial disparity and it’s disturbing,” Riggs said.
Riggs went on to discuss options available for those whose votes may have not been fairly counted. She encouraged anyone who feels they may be a victim of election fraud to share their story at the State Board of Elections hearing on Jan. 11. She also discussed civil options.
“Let’s not for one second call this voter fraud. This is not voter fraud. The voters did nothing wrong. This is election theft,” Riggs said.
Reverend T. Anthony Spearman, North Carolina President of the NAACP, talked at length about the history of black voter suppression.
“Though they have stolen our votes, we can’t allow them to keep stealing our votes, and I’m so glad to see so many of you here tonight because it ensures they can’t ever do it again,” Spearman said.
Community Concerns over the race for Bladen County Sheriff
Though the meeting was focused on the results of the 9th Congressional District Race, many called the re-election of Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker into question. Campaign finance reports show Sheriff Jim McVicker is one of many candidates that paid McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the state’s investigation.
“What are we going to do with our sheriff?” one speaker asked.
“I believe some funny business went on, I believe something fishy went on, and it does need to be looked at. In my personal opinion, if it’s found out that McVicker cheated Hakeem should get the sheriff, he should get the position of sheriff in Bladen County,” said Corey Lyons, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Elizabethtown
Hakeem Brown, a Democrat who challenged McVicker in the race for sheriff, made his first public comments since the news broke about McVicker’s connection to Dowless. Brown talked about feeling “a little bit bitter tonight” after all the work that went into his campaign.
“It’s one thing to lose when its fairly done. But its another thing to lose when unjust is done,” Brown said.
Resident accounts of wrongdoing
Two Bladen County women came forward to tell their stories of what they believe to be wrongdoing during previous elections. Linda Baldwin talked about an incident involving absentee ballots during the 2016 election.
“In the 2016 election, I had a young man to my home. He told me that he was a college student and that they were getting people to fill out absentee ballots. As a retired educator, I felt the need to fill out the ballots to assist a young man in getting paid. In fact, I filled out one for my two sons, my daughter, and myself. He told me he had to have the witness, so he would have to take my unsealed ballots with him for someone to sign. He told me that he would return in a couple of days with the ballots. He never returned,” Baldwin said.
Bladenboro resident Cetire Retimar said she had an absentee ballot mailed to her without requesting one.
"My grand-daughter just turned 18, she’s voting for the first time in her life and you’re going to take her vote and steal it? That’s not fair. Why should I teach my children to vote if you’re going to steal my vote anyway? You’re telling me my vote is not as important and, as far as I’m concerned, I’m just as important as anybody else and we want to be treated that way. We want a new election,” Retimar said.