Officials continue ballot investigation
Wesley Young/Winston-Salem Journal
Elections officials are continuing to investigate an incident in which nine absentee ballots were mailed to a man who lives across the hall from Phil Carter, a candidate for the Winston-Salem City Council.
The absentee ballot requests came mostly from residents of Holland Homes apartments on Mount Zion Place. What got the attention of local elections officials was that the elections office was asked to send all of the ballots to one address – the home of Benjamin Parker on E. Fifth Street.
Parker lives in an apartment across a hallway from Carter’s apartment.
Carter is in a three-way race to win the Democratic nomination to represent East Ward. The other candidates are incumbent Derwin Montgomery and former council member Joycelyn Johnson. No Republican filed to run in the heavily Democratic ward.
Rob Coffman, the elections director for Forsyth County, said that it was suspicious that the voters all had asked for the ballots to be sent to one address. Coffman said there were 13 ballot requests in all, but that some weren’t mailed to Parker after the elections office noticed the pattern.
Three of the ballots that were marked and returned to the local elections office bore Carter’s signature as a witness to the vote. Those ballots have been rejected because under state law a candidate may not act as a witness for an absentee ballot.
Coffman said he has been trying to contact the residents who requested the ballots to find out what had happened. Under state law, an absentee ballot cannot be delivered to someone by anyone other than a relative or legal guardian. The same legal provision says that once the ballot is marked, only the voter or a relative or guardian can take it back to the elections board if it is not mailed in.
Coffman said one voter, an older woman, told him Thursday that a man had come to her home and asked her if she wanted to vote using an absentee ballot. The woman did, and the man had her sign the application to get the ballot.
Candidates and political organizations often make those kinds of contacts, Coffman said, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“The thing that concerns (us is) if these voters were aware that their ballot was going to somebody else first,” Coffman said. “It is not unusual to have an absentee ballot go to a different address, but it is a little different when they go to a different address in the same community. Sometimes we see multiple ballots go to a different address. Usually it is a family stationed in the military or on vacation.”
Parker declined to comment about the incident on Thursday. On Tuesday, Parker said that Carter had asked him to get absentee ballots out to people and that he worked from a list of addresses that Carter gave him – all of which Carter denies.
Carter said he wound up signing as a witness to three ballots because he had stopped by his mother’s home to get hers, and that two other people happened to see him and asked him to sign theirs too.