By Jonathan Austin
Yancey County News
published Oct. 13, 2011
An analysis of voting data from the 2010 general election suggests that some employees of the Yancey County Sheriff’s Office were willing to officially witness absentee ballots for people with extensive criminal histories.
The employees, all sworn law officers, signed as the witness on ballots for people with prior convictions for felonies and misdemeanors including larceny, drug charges, multiple drunk driving charges, escape, resisting arrest and at least one drug trafficking conviction.
While all of the applicants apparently had the right to vote, the fact that the deputies were involved in the process leaves open the question as to whether the individuals wanted to vote or were pressured to do so.
The deputies’ actions are likely part of a criminal investigation that began before election day into the use of write-in absentee ballots in Yancey County. That investigation, which now actively involves the State Bureau of Investigation, was initiated after numerous complaints from county residents who told officials they saw abuses and questionable activity leading up to the general election, officials said.
Earlier this year, county election board chairman Charles McCurry said the criminal investigation involved “the absentee ballots, the one-stop ballots, the absentee requests,” and that election officials boxed up every absentee ballot and all the paperwork involved in the application and took it to Raleigh.
According to state law, voters must mark their absentee ballot and sign the certification on the return envelope in the presence of the witness, who then signs the return envelope.
That means the officers - Tom Farmer, Judy Ledford, Willie Anglin Jr. and Bobby Lee Austin - were present as the individuals noted their selections and sealed the envelope. The state investigation could be considering whether the mere presence of an employee of a candidate - employees who wear badges and carry guns - could be construed as voter intimidation.
The analysis of the vote data shows that Ledford - a captain at the department who retired but then returned to work part-time at the department - signed as the witness on ballots cast by individuals who had been previously convicted of writing a worthless check, multiple counts of larceny, one convicted of breaking and entering and solicitation to commit a felony, one convicted of DWI, and one convicted five separate times of DWI.
Anglin signed as the witness for individuals who had been previously convicted of charges including drug trafficking, forgery, repeated DWI charges, drug possession and larceny.
Austin, who also retired this year but is now the county animal control officer, signed as the witness for individuals who had been convicted on a variety of violations, including felony drug charges, larceny, assault and multiple DWIs, breaking and entering, and carrying a concealed weapon.
Farmer, the chief deputy who resigned after this paper reported how he was pawning department-owned guns, witnessed ballots for a woman with six convictions of writing a worthless check and shoplifting, and for a man who had been convicted of five counts of resisting arrest, two felony convictions for speeding to elude arrest, and escape.
In June this newspaper reported how some voters said Capt. Ledford had brought them their absentee ballots and then taken them to be mailed for the general election. If that is the case, both actions were illegal. All in all, Ledford witnessed at least 32 absentee ballots leading up to the general election.
One ballot she witnesses was that of Sondra Kaye Murphy, who listed her address as Hunter Street on her ballot application but asked that the ballot be delivered to 44 Wisteria Lane.
The name Sondra Murphy, of 74 Wisteria Lane, was used to witness seven mail-in ballot applications. The name Sondra K. Murphy of 74 Wisteria Lane was used to witness five mail-in ballots. The name Sondra Kaye Murphy of the same address witnessed one ballot, while another from the same address was apparently illegible except for the name ‘Sondra’.
Anglin signed as the witness for two people identifying 74 Wisteria as their home.
The Yancey County News reported in June that six first-time voters listed the residence at 74 Wisteria Lane - a single-wide trailer - as their home. Further research now shows that 11 absentee ballots were mailed to that trailer for people who either said it was their residence or it was where they wanted the ballot delivered.
Records seized by the state show that Murphy witnessed a ballot for one individual, Gregory Seth Morgan, who was in court to face numerous felony drug charges on Oct. 29 - four days before the general election.
Morgan had been arrested on Aug. 17, 2010, and registered to vote the very next day. All of the felony charges against him were reduced to misdemeanors.
Morgan himself also served as a witness on an absentee ballot, for a person who also registered to vote the day after Morgan was arrested.
Link to other election investigation stories