“‘Sister, did I vote?’ That’s what they call me – ‘Sister, did I vote?’ Yes, you did. And, everything is fine.” Those were the words of Dr. E. Lee Cooley, a voter outreach specialist from the NC State Board of Elections (SBE). Cooley was speaking to a group in attendance at voter education seminars held in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, on September 28 and 29.
Dr. Cooley was relating how she routinely votes her brother’s absentee ballot for him because he “likes to have a little toddy.” The ghastly reality that a staff member of the SBE would be telling people how to commit voter fraud, and seemingly indicating that she has done it herself, apparently more than once, is unsettling.
On Friday, October 7, Susan Myrick, Elections Policy Analyst at the Civitas Institute, told “What Matters in North Carolina” listeners that it is fortunate that someone at the meeting had related to a friend that she heard some things at one of the meetings that were shocking, and that someone in the audience recorded one of her talks. “What she heard was Dr. Lee Cooley telling people that it’s fine, that it’s okay to vote somebody else’s ballot,” Myrick said. “To actually mark the ballot and vote it for that person, ‘in the best interest of that person.’”
“Shocking” doesn’t begin to adequately describe my reaction to this revelation. “Horrified” is better, because there is no telling how many trusting citizens, eager to know the rules of absentee voting and other aspects of voting law, were instructed by a SBE official that they could commit voter fraud. Myrick said, “This is her job, to do the outreach for voters. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many times she told the stories that she told. She really gets very detailed about voting other people’s ballots, especially absentee ballots.”
Myrick said that other parts of Cooley’s presentation dealt with “helping” homeless people vote and how workers could mark absentee ballots for nursing home patients. Myrick said, “Unfortunately she even went into another realm about people who lived in nursing homes, in rest homes, and different types of facilities, [indicating] that it would be also okay in some circumstances for the workers and the owners of those facilities to help the patients and the residents that were there, which is absolutely against the law under any circumstance.”
Myrick wrote about this overt action on the part of an SBE employee to misrepresent the voting laws to people eager to learn so that they would understand and do things correctly. Her article, “State Elections Expert is Wrong on Voting Law” provides an in-depth account of the comments made by Cooley. It also includes the actual audio of those comments.
It comes as no surprise that Democrats wanted so badly to get rid of reforms to North Carolina’s elections laws that would provide extra measures of integrity. They howled at Voter ID requirements that the vast majority of the state’s citizens favor. Cooley, a registered Democrat, appears to have been engaging in the kind of behavior that cries out for election reform laws, but that Democrats object to and use judicial activism to prevent.
A glaring example of this disdain for election integrity is in Cooley’s admitting that it is against the law for the nursing home employees to assist patients with their ballot. But only, as Myrick wrote in her article, Cooley stressed that it’s against the law – “If you get caught.”
Myrick repeated the troubling fact that Cooley has been to other counties and spoken to other citizens. Myrick said, “I don’t know how many other counties she’s been to or what she’s said.” Myrick added that it is possible that workers from county boards may have gone back and told others that it is perfectly fine, if one’s mother is in a rest home, to request an absentee ballot and vote it for them.
The potential for voter fraud left in the wake of Cooley’s misinformation – intentional or otherwise – is enormous. The SBE responded to the revelations in Myrick’s article by placing Cooley on “investigatory leave.” Their statement included, “We are working diligently to determine what happened, why it happened and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.” Let’s hope not, and let’s hope that the damage done by Cooley is not too great.