Major changes made at Bladen County Board of Elections to improve security

Updated: May. 9, 2019 at 2:42 PM EDT
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ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WECT) - More changes are happening in the wake of the elections fraud investigation in Bladen County. Effective Thursday, the Veterans Services office in Bladen County has been relocated and will no longer share office space with the Bladen County Board of Election’s Office.

According to County Manager Greg Martin, the Veterans Office has now relocated to the Bladen County Health Department Building. Other security improvements have also been implemented at the Board of Elections building including changing the locks and upgrading security cameras.

“[K]eys to interior rooms have been safely secured so they are neither visible nor accessible in the office. Security cameras are in operation inside and outside the building,” Patrick Gannon, a spokesperson for the State Board of Elections added about the Bladen security upgrades. “Also, to allay concerns about easy access to the director’s office, a half door has been installed in the hallway leading to that office to prevent members of the public from simply walking in.”

Even before 2018 elections debacle in Bladen County, which had to be redone because of substantial evidence of fraud and ballot tampering during the original election, people raised concerns about the Board of Elections sharing an office - and access to ballots - with an outside agency.

Jens Lutz, the former Bladen County Board of Elections vice chairman, told WECT shortly after the 2018 general election about his security concerns. He’d made his concerns known to county officials before the election.

Because the Board of Elections shared an office with Veterans Affairs, Lutz said there was potentially 24 hour access to their building by people who may not be authorized to be there. In December, he said there was no security system, no security doors to parts of their office that house sensitive elections material, and that the security cameras had not been operational in at least five years.

The Department of Homeland Security had raised similar concerns, but Bladen County Commissioners had previously declined to act on them. County Commission Chair Ray Britt said these recent changes did not come before the commissioners for approval, and were apparently handled at the county administrative level.

In addition to improving security of the Board of Elections, Martin said the Veterans Office new location at the Health Department building would provide convenient access for veterans.

Larry Hammond runs the Veterans Services office. He previously held that job in addition to serving as director of the Bladen County Board of Elections, but resigned as elections director in 2011 under a state mandate. The state felt that managing the elections was a complicated job that needed someone’s exclusive and full time commitment.

Cynthia Shaw replaced Hammond as elections director. She retired immediately after the 2018 elections scandal, but Bladen elections officials said it was a planned retirement and not related to the issues with the general election.

“Representatives from the State Board staff have been in Bladen County routinely in recent weeks to assist the staff and train workers. They have stressed the importance of office security. That office is making good progress, and we appreciate the hard work of county staff,” Gannon told WECT.

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