Judge's gavel on a desk.

Judge denies petition in Robeson County election bribery case

By Ben Rappaport


Wake County Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier denied an appeal in a case alleging voter bribery in Robeson County’s primary election, an attorney involved in the case said Wednesday.  

The ruling by Rozier, who had not filed an order explaining his decision as of Thursday morning, means Robeson County Commissioner Judy Sampson’s slim victory in the March 5 Democratic primary will stand. 

Sampson’s challenger in the race, Lacy Cummings, filed a court petition last month alleging Sampson and Wixie Stephens, another Democrat on the commissioners’ board, bribed at least 21 voters to vote for Sampson. 

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Cummings, who has run unsuccessfully for a seat on the board five times since 2010, appealed to the court after the county elections board and the N.C. State Board of Elections dismissed his protests alleging voter irregularities. Both boards said Cummings’ claims lacked evidence. 

The petition said Cummings gathered more evidence after the boards’ dismissals, including signed affidavits from nine Robeson County residents. Six said they were paid by Stephens, in cash or via CashApp. A written affidavit is a sworn statement overseen by an authorized official, equivalent to testimony in court.

Michael Porter, a Fayetteville attorney representing Cummings, argued in court on Monday that Cummings deserved a full hearing, which would have included witness testimony and cross-examination of the people who signed affidavits. He said the affidavits showed the election was “bought and paid for,” and the petition was an attempt to ring the alarm bell in Robeson County.

“If the allegations here are true, then this is a threat to democracy,” Porter told the judge. 

Mary Carla Babb, legal counsel for the state elections board, argued that the case should be dismissed because the evidence presented in the original appeals — which did not include the affidavits — would not have changed the outcome of the election. 

“Even in the case that the allegations here result in a felony conviction, it would still not be outcome determinative because the election would already be certified,” Babb said. 

Coy Brewer, attorney for the Robeson County Board of Elections, said the affidavits included in the petition did not show material evidence of people changing their votes in favor of Sampson.

“There is only one affidavit that says someone actually voted,” Brewer told the judge.  He said broad, unspecified allegations of election fraud leading to a hearing would set an unfair precedent.

Investigation continues

Judge Hoyt Tessner issued a temporary pause on the election results on April 23, saying a decision in the case was needed by May 3. Rozier’s decision came after the oral arguments on Monday. 

Porter told the Border Belt Independent in a text message on Wednesday that Rozier denied the appeal, which asked for a new election in the Democratic primary for the commissioners’ District 5 seat. Other attorneys involved in the case confirmed Rozier’s decision.

Porter said he believed the denial was due to technical requirements.” 

“The denial of the petition does not mean that the allegations are untrue,” Porter told the BBI. “It merely means that certain technical requirements were not met by Mr. Cummings early on in the process before he had legal counsel to assist him.” 

The allegations of bribery are still under investigation by Lindsey Wakely, the state Board of Elections’ acting general counsel.

The petition accuses Stephens of paying at least nine residents up to $60 to vote for Sampson. In a signed affidavit, one voter said Stephens, who owns a bail bond company in Lumberton, gave her cash, bought her a seafood dinner and promised to bail her out if she ever returned to jail. Another voter said Stephens waived a $200 bond payment in exchange for casting a vote for Sampson.

The petition also says Sampson wrote a check for $160 to be split among another 11 voters.

Paying someone in exchange for a vote is a Class I felony under state law and would also constitute election fraud. Class I felonies are the least serious felony classification, punishable by four to 10 months in prison.

Sampson, Stephens say they did nothing wrong

Stephens denied the allegations and called Cummings an “unequivocal liar” when asked about the case last month.

“Our Election process in Robeson County will never be successful as long as people keep taking money from unfit candidates like Lacy Cummings,” Stephens wrote in a Facebook post Thursday morning.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Sampson called the previous reporting on the allegations “Fabricated Fraudulent Fake News.” She said the signed affidavits alleging voter bribery were part of a conspiracy scheme against her.  

Wixie Stephens, left, and Judy Sampson. Both are Democrats who serve on the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.

“I wasn’t surprised when the judge dismissed Lacy Cummings protest because my integrity speaks for itself,” Sampson said in a post. “I didn’t have to buy one single vote.”

The Charleston Group Lawyers, who represented Sampson and Stephens in the case, said in a statement on Wednesday that the two commissioners were “honorable people with great integrity.” 

“Unfortunately, in political campaigns some candidates believe you can say anything about political opponents without consequence,” the firm said, adding that it will continue to investigate reports of election irregularities in the race.