Two Robeson County commissioners are accused of bribing voters in primary election

By Ben Rappaport and Paul Woolverton

This story was co-published by The Assembly, CityView and the Border Belt Independent.

Update: Superior Court Judge Hoyt Tessener issued a temporary pause April 23 on the election results between Lacy Cummings and Judy Sampson. A hearing is scheduled for April 29 in Raleigh.

Two Robeson County commissioners are accused of bribing at least 21 voters in the March primary, according to a court petition filed Thursday.

Commissioner Wixie Stephens allegedly paid at least nine residents up to $60 to vote for incumbent Judy Sampson in the March 5 Democratic primary for the commissioners’ District 5 seat, according to a legal petition filed on Thursday in Wake County Superior Court. 

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.

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The petition was filed by Lacy Cummings, who challenged Sampson in the election. Results showed that Cummings lost by five votes, 875 to 870 which was confirmed in a recount on March 27. This set up Sampson to face Republican Lynn E. Locklear in November.

The Robeson County elections board denied a protest by Cummings on March 27. The state Board of Elections denied an appeal on April 10, saying Cummings lacked evidence in his claims of voter irregularities. As allowed under North Carolina law, Cummings then appealed to the Wake County court. The signed affidavits came forward beginning on April 11, after the state board denied his protest.

Paul Cox, spokesperson for the state board of elections, told WRAL the board “will review and respond to the arguments made in the appeal to superior court.”

Since the boards’ dismissals, testimonials have come forward that “shock the conscience,” according to the petition. Cummings is asking for a stay on the election results and for his protests to be reconsidered by the Wake County court. 

“Cummings and his team continued to be approached by members of the electorate and continued to uncover additional instances of voter irregularity, or worse,” the petition says. “The more they asked around the District, the more appalling the instances which came to light.” 

The allegations outlined in the petition are serious. 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.

Wixie Stephens: Accusations are lies

When reached by phone on Friday, Stephens said she did not pay voters or assist with their bail payments. She was working on Sampson’s re-election campaign this spring and ran uncontested in her own Democratic primary. 

Stephens said Cummings asked her to support his attempts to win a seat on the commissioners’ board, but she declined. Cummings ran unsuccessfully five times since 2010. 

“Lacy Cummings is a habitual, unequivocal liar,” Stephens said. “He ran five times, lost five times and just can’t take it. Now he wants to blame the whole county.”

Judy Sampson, who has served on the commission since 2020, did not immediately respond to phone calls or emails on Friday afternoon.

Voters say they were paid

The petition includes signed affidavits from nine Robeson County residents. Six said they were paid by Stephens, in cash or via CashApp. One of them said he was paid $60 to vote for Sampson and $80 to give to four other voters. A written affidavit is a sworn statement overseen by an authorized official, equivalent to testimony in court

In one affidavit, a man said he declined Stephens’ offer of $15 to vote for Sampson. But his twin brother accepted money, according to the man, who said he witnessed Stephens pay several other voters. 

“Ms. Stephens then asked if I would use my twin brother’s ID to vote for Ms. Judy Sampson,” the affidavit says. “Again, I refused.”

Cummings declined on Friday to comment and referred questions to his lawyer, Michael Porter of Fayetteville.

“Although the amounts of money used to pay for these votes are small, this is still a case of rank and outrageous election fraud,” said Porter, who took on the case Wednesday. “Buying votes is a threat to our democracy. And we must ensure that this never happens again.”

Past Robeson election scandals

Robeson County has a history of fraught elections. Lumberton, the Robeson County seat, was the subject of a vote-buying investigation in 2015 when a City Council candidate accused her opponent of paying three voters to cast ballots in exchange for $7 each, WRAL reported. No one was charged. 

In November, Pembroke Mayor Greg Cummings lost his re-election bid to Allen Dial by 19 votes. Greg Cummings also protested the election to Wake County Superior Court, alleging about a dozen voters cast ballots from outside the town limits. The case remains undecided.

Porter said Lacy Cummings’ case deserves further examination following the new allegations in the affidavits. 

“Even though the initial protest did not yet have the teeth and thoroughness,” the petition says, “it was not given the attention it obviously and justly deserves.”

During Cummings’ initial appeals to the county and state election boards, he did not have signed evidence for these accusations. Porter said, however, voters continue to come forward alleging they were paid for their votes.

According to state statute, the court would issue a stay on the election results if it appears Cummings is likely to succeed in his appeal. 

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