Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County and state election officials emphatically rejected a request by members of Voter Integrity Project to stage a Tuesday photo shoot inside a polling place at the Millbrook Exchange Park that would have involved "a number of masked people lined up attempting to vote as unidentified voters."
The request prompted one elections official to say he was "aghast" at the request, which elicited warnings from both the State Board of Elections and the Wake County Board of Elections that such a shoot would violate state law, according to emails obtained by WRAL News.
Voter Integrity Project is a group that lobbies for stricter photo identification laws in the state. North Carolina plans to start requiring photo ID at the polls in 2016.
"We're delighted that election officials are so alert to possible criminal activity. I only wish that alertness extended to double- and triple-voting at the same precinct," said VIP president Jay Delancy.
His group has often alleged that it has found double-voting or other illegal activity by in-person voters, but none of those allegations has resulted in a criminal case. The group may have helped identify five voters who may have voted in both North Carolina and Florida.
Delancy said his group wanted to take the photo of voters with masks on to illustrate the situation precinct officials are facing when they can't ask that voters show ID. But it is illegal for voters to wear masks inside polling places. There are also limitations on how and when photographs are taken at polling places.
VIP has since backed off the request, which was first reported by a local blogger and Democratic activist.
"We will set it up someplace else and not involve the election board in the shoot...but talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill!" Delancy wrote in an email to WRAL News.
VIP apparently made the request on Monday, sparking a chain of emails between Delancy, election officials and others. Delancy said the group's reading of the law was that such a picture would be allowed if the chief judge of an election precinct and the voter in question agreed to the photograph. Those rules were written to govern news coverage of elections.
"It was stagecraft on the cheap," Delancy explained.
Denise Stetter is a precinct official at the Millbrook site and also serves as VIP's director of communications. Although Delancy insists she was not involved in the inquiry about the potential photo shoot, two things appear to have happened simultaneously.
Wake County Board of Elections Director Cherie Poucher sent Delancy's request to the State Board of Elections, which eventually confirmed Wake County's judgment that the photo shoot was illegal.
Also, Gary Sims, Wake County's deputy elections director, advised Stetter by phone that, if the group showed up at her polling place to do the shoot, she should call law enforcement. This instruction became a point of contention between Wake County and VIP, with Delancy saying it seemed like the county had already called the police.
"He (Sims) DID NOT state that we were calling law enforcement," Poucher wrote in an email. "As a matter of fact, I heard him reinforce that several times with her that he was not calling law enforcement but merely making an official aware of an Election Day request for her precinct. This is what we do for any official."
Stetter returned an email to Poucher saying that Sims had sent a mixed message. An initial conversation, she said, had the effect of "creating a very clear implication that law enforcement might be contacted simply because a request to film had been made. It was only later, after I pressed him, that Gary (Sims) said law enforcement would be contacted only if a film crew showed up and were in violation of the law."
In any event, it appears that, by the close of business Monday, everyone acknowledged that such a shoot was illegal, and VIP withdrew its request.
David Robinson, chairman of the Wake County Board of Elections, confirmed much of the narrative in the documents, adding that he "accepted their withdrawal of the request." In an email to Delancy, he used stronger language.
"As a footnote though, I am aware that your organization has been reflecting on this type of issue promotion for some time and am aghast that the precinct you chose to inquire about is the one precinct in the county where an active day care can view the comings and goings of the voting population," Robinson wrote.
The building is used by a city-run summer camp that would have likely been able to see the masked individuals entering the polling place.
This prompted Delancy to respond, "(W)e don’t particularly pay attention to the locations of Wake County’s precincts with regard to childcare centers; but I marvel at your insinuation. I learned to live with this sort of treatment from the previous Wake BoE, but I’m disappointed by your tone."
After Gov. Pat McCrory won election in 2012, local boards of election moved from being controlled by Democrats to being controlled by Republicans.
Delancy added, "Nobody in my organization knows about this request beyond Denise (Stetter) and myself; so unless I read about it on some left-wing blog site, this matter is closed. I’m sorry that we’re meeting this way and also regret distracting your entire Wake BOE team with this request one day before an election."