Judge rejects attempt to block Robeson commissioner election certification

Carolina Journal photo by Mitch Kokai

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  • A Wake County judge has rejected a Robeson County commissioner candidate's request to block certification of the District 5 Democratic primary election.
  • Incumbent Judy Oxendine Sampson defeated Lacy Cummings by five votes. Cummings claimed that Sampson and another commissioner bribed voters.
  • The State Board of Elections rejected Cummings' attempt to block the election's certification. Judge Vince Rozier ruled that Cummings "has not shown that he is likely to prevail in the appeal of the State Board decision."

A Wake County judge has rejected a losing Robeson County commissioner candidate’s request to block certification of the primary election results. The candidate accused the winning incumbent and another county commissioner of bribing voters during the Democratic primary.

The State Board of Elections already had denied Lacy Cummings’ request to stop certification of Cummings’ five-vote loss to Judy Oxendine Sampson in the District 5 primary on March 5.

“[T]he Court concludes Petitioner has not shown that he is likely to prevail in the appeal of the State Board decision. Therefore, he does not meet the standard for a stay under section 163-182.14(b),” wrote Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier in an order dated May 7 and filed Friday.

A different judge, Hoyt Tessener, had issued a separate order on April 23 blocking the election certification temporarily. Tessener’s order lasted through May 3.

Rozier held an April 29 hearing to consider whether to extend Tessener’s restrictions.

Sampson defeated Cummings, 875 votes to 870, in the District 5 primary. It was the only county commissioner race on the primary ballot. Sampson is set to face Republican Lynn Locklear in November.

The Robeson County elections board rejected Cummings’ election protest on March 27. The State Board of Elections denied an appeal on April 10.

A court petition from Cummings outlined his bribery accusations involving Sampson and a fellow county commissioner, Wixie Stephens.

Stephens “paid potential voters between $15 and $60 to cast at least 9 votes in favor of Ms. Sampson,” the petition alleged.

“During early voting, Stephens approached and then drove the grandson, since deceased, of Paul Hunt to the Lumbee Tribal Building to procure a ‘tribal card’ to present as identification, which he did a [sic] voted for Sampson in exchange for $40.00 from Stephens,” the petition continued.

“On March 1, 2024, Stephens approached Kalen Sampson and offered him $60.00 to cast a vote for Sampson. Stephens then offered Kalen Sampson another $80.00 to distribute to four (4) other voters at $20,00 to cast their votes for Sampson. Each of these five (5) persons casted a vote for Sampson in District 5,” Cummings’ petition claimed.

“On March 5, 2024, the day of the general election, Stephens drove Paula Ann Hunt to a poll at the Raft Swamp polling site and completed the young woman’s ballot for her because she allegedly could not read the ballot, and paid her $25.00 for this. Additionally, Stephens, a bail bondswoman by trade, offered to bail Ms. Hunt out for free should she be arrested if she would cast her vote for Sampson. Hunt did cast her vote for Sampson,” the petition continued.

“Trent Locklear was approached during early voting by Stephens to accept $15.00 to cast his vote for Sampson. When he explained that he did not have proper identification, Stephens told him to vote using Locklear’s twin brother’s identification. He did refuse, but Trent Locklear witnessed his brother and several others accepting cash money to cast a vote for Sampson,” the complaint alleged.

“Stephens was contracted to bail Kaitlyn Woods from the Robeson County Detention Center for $750.00 and an additional $200.00 per month for an additional twelve (12) months. Stephens offered to waive February’s $200.00 deposit if Ms. Woods would cast her vote for Sampson, and Ms. Woods did cast her vote for Sampson,” Cummings’ petition argued.

Cummings pulled those anecdotes from sworn affidavits. His petition indicated that he received those affidavits on April 11, a day after the state elections board denied his appeal.

The petition suggests the voter testimonials “that have come forward since and that continue to come forward shock the conscience.”

“Unfortunately, more of these sworn testimonials continue to come to Cummings,” his complaint added.

“These allegations, if true, would each substantiate the probable occurrence of an outcome-determinative defect in the manner in which voters were counted or results tabulated, and also the probable occurrence of an outcome-determinative violation of election law, irregularity, or misconduct,” according to the petition. “Only one or two of these allegations, if true, would almost certainly substantially and directly affect the outcome of a 5-vote difference election.”

Rozier’s order explained the details of the process he used to address Cummings’ complaint. “Article 15A of Chapter 163 of the North Carolina General Statutes provides the procedures for counting ballots, canvassing votes, and certifying results in an election, including election protests and appeals of county board and State Board decisions on protest appeals,” Rozier wrote. “Specifically, a motion to stay the certification of an election or nomination, which can be sought in conjunction with a protest appeal, is governed by section 163-182.14(b), which states, ‘[t]he Court shall not issue a stay of certification unless the petitioner shows the court that the petitioner has appealed the decision of the State Board of Elections, that the petitioner is an aggrieved party, and that the petitioner is likely to prevail in the appeal.’”

“The first two requirements for this Court to issue a stay of certification are not contested in this appeal,” Rozier added. “Petitioner is an aggrieved party who has appealed a final decision of the State Board to deny his election protest appeal of the local board’s dismissal of his election protest.”

“However, the third requirement, regarding Petitioner’s likelihood of success in his appeal to Superior Court, Wake County, is in dispute,” Rozier wrote. The judge issued his decision against Cummings “[b]ased on the written submissions of the parties, and arguments at the April 29, 2024, hearing.”