It's called Get Out The Vote, and the practice is alive and well here. Campaign finance records show Butch Pope, the Democratic candidate for District Attorney of Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus Counties, spent $15,000 paying people to round up votes for him during the primary election. Sometimes, that means glad-handing at the polls, other times, get out the vote workers drive voters to the polls.
"Dollar for dollar, I think it's more effective because it's more personal," Pope told us, explaining why he utilizes Get Out The Vote. "They talk to the voters as they come up, they speak to them, they know them, I think it's just good old, down home southern politics."
Get out the vote tactics are legal, and commonplace, especially in rural areas like Bladen County. But Pope's opponent, Jon David, has a big problem with the way he's trying to win this election.
"The practice raises serious questions," David told us, "because ultimately what it does is transfer power away from the voters to make an important decision, and lets a small group of people who don't have the best interest of the community at heart, but their own financial interest at stake, to dictate who becomes important leaders in their community."
One thing we uncovered that's somewhat concerning in a district attorney's race - many of the people Pope has hired to round up votes have criminal records. Pope paid the most money, about $5,000, to McCrae Dowless, a big player in the Bladen County get out the vote arena. But we found out Dowless has a rap sheet, including previous arrests for assault on a female, and felony fraud charges. One has to ask, is this the person you want doing your bidding if you're campaigning to run the area's law and order system?
"They're not decision makers," Pope explained. "They are not influential in my campaign certainly, but they know where the precincts are - they know where to be, what time, they know how to do these kinds of things. The fact they had a criminal record. I think Mr. Dowless may have had a criminal conviction 20 years ago or more, and he's paid his dues. That doesn't bother me."
Jon David says Bladen County deserves better. "The district attorney should set the standard for what it means to be fair and above board in his dealings," he said. "As a candidate, I am prepared to answer any questions that you have about how I get my money, or how I spend the money, because after all, how you run for office says a lot about how you're going to run the office when you get there."
It's not just McCrae Dowless who has a criminal record. Pope, and a number of other high profile candidates running for election in Bladen County, have hired Levi Roberts for their get out the vote efforts. Roberts has a lengthy criminal record, including charges for going armed to the terror of the public, two counts of assault on a female, drug charges, and 6 arrests for drunk driving. So you might find it a little concerning that Pope gave Roberts gas money to help with his campaign.
Pope says he wasn't aware of Roberts legal issues. "I would certainly look into that," Pope told NewsChannel 3. "If someone was driving someone to the polls and they had a drivers license problem, I'd look into that."
We tried to reach McCrae Dowless and Levi Roberts for this story. Dowless originally agreed to an interview, saying he had nothing to hide, but called to cancel our interview the morning of. He did tell us over the phone that the Get Out the Vote effort is an important means of improving voter turnout in Bladen County.
The State Board of Elections investigators who are looking into complaints surrounding the Bladen elections say Get Out the Vote campaigns are not unusual, and are an effective way for candidates to maximize voter turnout. However, investigators tell us it is unusual for candidates to be hiring people with criminal records.