Forsyth DA will not press charges in voter fraud case

by Jordan Green

The Forsyth County District Attorney’s office announced last week that it will not press charges against an individual who was alleged to have voted twice in the 2010 primary election.

The statement from the office of District Attorney Jim O’Neill does not name the individual, but Forsyth County Elections Director Rob Coffman has confirmed that Virginia Robertson Lee, in fact, did vote twice in the primary. Her second vote was withdrawn after a seasonal worker recognized her, and Coffman said a state computer network flagged the duplicate vote at the end of the day.

District Attorney Jim O’Neill said after the State Board of Elections completed its investigation, the agency turned over its information to his office. O’Neill said he requested that the State Bureau of Investigation, or SBI, investigate to determine whether the matter was an isolated incident or part of a larger conspiracy.

“They were satisfied that this was an isolated incident, and that she was not part of a larger conspiracy,” he said.

Gardenia Henley, an unsuccessful candidate for NC House and retired auditor with the US State Department, conducted an independent investigation. Henley obtained signed statements from Lee indicating that Susan Speaks Frye, a candidate for Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court; Everette Witherspoon, a candidate for Forsyth County Commission; and Jimmie Bonham, a candidate for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, paid her for her vote, and in the case of Frye and Bonham, enlisted her to vote twice.

The three candidates have denied the allegations. Frye and Witherspoon, both Democrats, won their election contests. Bonham, who ran for a nonpartisan position, did not prevail.

Marshall Tutor, the State Board of Elections’ sole investigator, said that despite his efforts he was unable to obtain from Lee any information about individuals attempting to buy votes. And yet Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, told YES! Weekly last month that his agency was already aware of all the information Henley had gathered in the case.

“We knew it was garbage anyway,” Bonham said in reaction to the SBI’s finding.

Henley questioned the scope of the SBI investigation and said she would like to review the findings.

“In this case, it did not matter if this was an ‘isolated incident or a wider case of voter fraud,’ it was an illegal act either way,” she said in a prepared statement. “This particular case should be dealt with and investigated properly. Candidates accompanied this individual while voting several times. This part of the voter fraud issues and investigation must be dealt with.

“The consequences of committing a federal offense should be dealt with, whether it was one person or a thousand people violating the law,” Henley continued. “I believe that state officials know that if they prosecute this individual [Lee], she will sing like a hummingbird and will verify what I have been saying all along.”

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the NC Department of Justice, said the agency would decline to release the findings and recommendations because SBI investigative reports are not public records.

O’Neill declined to discuss whether the SBI interviewed the three candidates or what might have motivated the woman to try to vote twice.

“They were satisfied that this was an isolated incident and that that she was not part of a larger conspiracy,” O’Neill said. “I’m not allowed to talk about what the SBI did as part of their investigation.”

The District Attorney’s announcement states that “it was determined that this was not a widespread case of voter fraud and that no charges would be forthcoming.”