GOP chair challenges 22 voters


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, December 2, 2016

The chairman of the Pasquotank County Republican Party is challenging the residency of 22 voters who participated in last month's election, claiming they are a “symptom of voter fraud” that calls into question the outcome of the governor's race.

In an election protest filed with the Pasquotank Board of Elections on Tuesday, county GOP Chairman Pete Gilbert claims 22 voters in the Nov. 8 election were not eligible to vote because they did not meet voter registration requirements or were not Pasquotank County residents.

The Pasquotank Board of Elections will review Gilbert’s protest at a preliminary hearing on Monday at 10 a.m. The purpose of the hearing is to decide whether the board should hold a second hearing on whether the voters stay on the county's rolls.

However, Gilbert is requesting his protest go straight to the State Board of Elections instead, so it can be combined with other protests lodged in the governor's race. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory trailed Democratic challenger Roy Cooper by 10,000-plus votes as of Thursday. However, McCrory's campaign has filed election protests statewide to challenge the outcome. Those protests have largely been rejected.

Gilbert's election protest involves six voters who gave their address as Elizabeth City State University, or 1704 Weeksville Road. They are Peter Oswald Baucom II, Joell Todd Harris, Aaron Michael Cabbs, Ashley Alexandria Hughes, Maurice Andre Jackson II and Jamian Lamora Smith.

His protest also names 13 voters who listed mailing addresses Gilbert claims aren't in Pasquotank County. They are Dale Felton Williams, Anzell Nathaniel Harrell, Albertina Luwi Kawatu, Mpeza Kawatu, Brooks Sterritt, Anna Wright Stevens, Jackson Richard Taylor, Morris L. Tharps, Quincy Juanita Tharps, Edward Ross Vogel, Peter McClintock Curtice, Hunter Randall Chappell, and Ashley Jean Kroetsch.

Gilbert’s protest also includes two voters who apparently reside in Elizabeth City but whose mail-in ballots were rejected “due to voter signature not matching” the signature that appeared on their registration card. They are Donnie Ray Lister and Robert Bellia.

His protest also includes one voter who apparently ignored instructions to vote provisionally. An attached incident report from the Pasquotank elections office explains that Tameka D. Freshwater cast her ballot normally, despite instructions to bring it back to voting officials, and then walked out. Elections staff said Friday that Freshwater was asked to vote provisionally because she wasn't registered.

Gilbert argues in his protest that the voters' conduct is a “symptom of a systemic infection of voter fraud,” rather than innocent, routine errors.

He based that conclusion in part on misinformation from a former State Board of Elections official, Lee Cooley, who was fired after giving voting seminars in Elizabeth City two months ago.

Though much of her information was accurate, Cooley told voters it was permissible to vote a relative's absentee ballot for them. She also said she had engaged in that practice.

Cooley drew swift outcry from the conservative Civitas Institute, who claimed she was instructing voters to commit voter fraud. The State Board of Elections suspended and then fired Cooley.

In his protest, however, Gilbert criticized the state board for failing to inform local election officials about Cooley's misstatements and for failing to detail her travels as a state employee.

“When combined with an employee of the (State Board of Elections) traveling through the state preaching how to commit voter fraud, then I certainly think that Pasquotank's findings and the (State Board of Elections’) failure to act on Dr. Cooley's travesty is enough to cast doubt on the results of the North Carolina governor's race,” Gilbert said in his protest.

Notably, the number of ballots Gilbert is challenging is small in comparison to Cooper's lead over McCrory, which has grown since election night even as Republicans have challenged the election's outcome. The 90,000-plus votes that the State Board of Elections has ordered recounted in Durham County will likely be more decisive.

The ballots Gilbert is alleging indicate voter fraud are also small in comparison to the 17,464 ballots cast in Pasquotank County, according to official election results. About 500 of those ballots were mail-in ballots, according to the results.

Asked about Gilbert's election protest on Friday, Pasquotank Deputy Elections Director Rebecca Creech declined to respond to his claims of voter fraud. However, she did report that the Pasquotank Board of Elections will handle Gilbert's protest, based on direction from the State Board of Elections.

Gilbert, who has challenged a number of voters' ability to cast ballots in Pasquotank over the years, was successful in his last challenge in 2013. The State Board of Elections found that dozens of voters who participated in the 2012 election once lived at ECSU but no longer did. Often they appeared to be students who graduated but had not updated their registration.