State board dismisses complaints against Bladen County Board of Elections members

Updated: Oct. 18, 2019 at 3:45 PM EDT
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BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Complaints against two members of the Bladen County Board of Elections were dismissed by state election officials on Friday for failing to meet basic requirements.

Motions before the North Carolina State Board of Elections to call for evidentiary hearings in the complaints against Patricia Sheppard and Louella Thompson both failed 2-3 along party lines.

The complaintant, Bladen County Republican Party leader Wayne Shaeffer, was not present on the phone-meeting, nor was any legal representation.

Patricia Sheppard was represented on the call by former NCSBE chair Joshua Malcolm.

Malcolm argued that complaints presented to the board have strict requirements, and that the complaint submitted by Schaeffer lacked to fulfill those requirements.

One of those requirements is to include with each alleged offense a reference to the specific state law being broken.

“What you see, and what you read, are assertions by Mr. Schaeffer,” Malcolm said. “You will not see in any of those four paragraphs, any citation [of the law being violated]."

As for the links to comments made on a news website and an email sent to Bladen County officials, which Schaeffer referenced in his complaint, Malcolm said they do not amount to prima facie evidence that a violation of state law occurred.

"As to all the documents and hyperlinks and cut-and-paste statements, the only thing I’ll say, is there’s nothing been alleged, I’m not aware of any, nor have I reviewed, nor do I think there exists, any assertion by him that Ms. Sheppard has ever made a statement against any clearly identified candidate for office regarding her personal opinion about someone’s competence, whether they’re smart enough, whether they need to re-evaluate their approach,” he said.

State board members were split.

Ken Raymond, who moved that the board hold a hearing, said he was disappointed Schaeffer was not on the call, but that he had serious concerns about the ability of the accused board members to conduct their jobs impartially.

“This is something we need to address going into an election year,” he said. "We cannot have board members who appear to be incapable of performing their duties in an impartial and non partisan manner.”

Board Chair Damon Circosta said he agreed about the need for board members to be more careful about what they post on social media or other websites, and that it makes him angry when board members are accused of impropriety.

However, he said, "We are a government, not of anger, but a government of law.”

As for the complaint about Louella Thompson, in addition to Shaeffer not being present on the call, no one called in representing Thompson either.

Earlier this week, the Bladen County Commission voted not to provide legal representation for either board member, despite some commissioner concern about the alleged activity taking place during an official board meeting.

That complaint was also dismissed, but board member Jeff Carmon III said he wanted board members to take a lesson away from the meeting.

“This type of behavior just brings so much unwanted scrutiny," he said. "Although we live in a day where social media rules, when we accept these positions, we have to show more restraint.”

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