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Wednesday, 24 January 2007 00:00

Swain chairman accused of handling absentee ballots

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Clerk talks:

Dennis Stephenson, a clerk at the Bryson City post office, supplied the following statement in an affidavit taken by Swain County election board member John Herrin.

 

“That during the month of October 2006, Glenn Jones, of Swain County came to the US Post Office in Bryson City, where I am an employee, on several occasions over several days with multiple absentee envelopes on each occasion. He typically purchased postage stamps, applied them to the absentee envelopes and gave them over to me to be canceled and placed in the mail to the Swain County Board of Elections.

This happened, no less than three times with an average of 8 to 10 envelopes each time. The exact number of times and envelopes is not something I can remember.

These absentee envelopes were canceled with the Bryson City counter stamp and placed directly in the Post Office Box of the Swain County Board of Elections on each occasion.”

 

A second allegation of illegal election activity involving absentee ballots in Swain County came forward this week.

According to a post office worker in Bryson City, County Commissioner Chairman Glenn Jones came into the post office on at least three occasions prior to the November election with a stack of absentee ballots to be mailed. It is illegal for anyone other than the voter or the voter’s near family member to be in possession of their absentee ballots, even for the purpose of mailing them.

The allegation seems to correspond with complaints of illegal voter intimidation also involving Jones. A couple living in a trailer park in Swain County say they were forced to apply for absentee ballotsby Jones and their landlord, Phillip Smith. When the ballots came, the couple says they were forced to vote a straight Democratic ticket or else be evicted from the trailer park. The couple says after they marked and signed the ballots, Jones and Smith took the ballots with them when they left.

Jones said it is not the appropriate time for him to comment on the allegations.

Sworn affidavits from the couple in the trailer park were faxed to the state election office on Jan. 10. Now an affidavit from the postal worker has been added to the stack.

Gary Bartlett, the director of the state election office, said the state will determine whether the allegations have merit before pursuing a full-scale investigation. Some people in Swain County believe the allegations are be founded. In a county where the Democratic Party is known as “The Machine,” they say voting manipulation is not new.

“Some folks aren’t surprised at all,” said Mike Kesselring of Swain County. “There have been a lot of things going on in the community that look too much like a narrow group of people trying to run things their way. It’s not the first time I’ve heard about things happening that are questionable.”

Shelda Calhoun said she was once offered $20 on her way into the polls on Election Day to vote a certain way. While the allegations aren’t proven, Calhoun said it is hard to imagine why the couple in the trailer park would be motivated to make up the story. They had moved to Swain County within the past year and had not even registered to vote until they were recruited to do so.

“They have no connections to this community whatsoever. They don’t have an agenda to one side or one party,” Calhoun said. “I feel like there has to be something to it. If it is true, the Democratic Party is going to be torn to pieces.”

Both Kesselring and Calhoun are Democrats but voted against Jones in the last election. They backed the Republican candidate who supports building the North Shore Road, which in Swain County can define allegiances more strongly than party affiliation.

Swain County Commissioner David Monteith said he hopes the state thoroughly investigates the allegations.

“It needs to be looked into real seriously,” Monteith said. “People work hard to get elected. We all get out and hustle. We should all playing on the same ballfield.”

Monteith said elected officials are looked to as leaders and should set an example. “I feel like elected officials should be held to a higher standard. We want to promote honesty and instill this in our youth,” said Monteith, who hopes the attention won’t reflect negatively on Swain County to the outside.

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