Land war brews between Bladen County electioneers and property owner
BLADEN COUNTY (WWAY) — A controversy is brewing in Bladen County involving a property owner, the Bladen County Board of Elections, and Elizabethtown Police Department.
Laura Domingoes owns two plots of land in Bladen County, a lot her home sits on, and an adjoining empty lot that sits between her home and the Bladen County Board of Elections. Domingoes says the whole controversy started when electioneers and volunteers set up signs and tents on her private property around early voting.
They did this without her permission. According to District Attorney Jon David, setting up campaign signs in front of someone’s home on their property without their permission is illegal.
“State statutes prohibit people from setting up political signs in front of people’s residences because that can naturally lead to confusion about whether a person that lives in a specific residence might be in support of a specific candidate when they might actually not do that,” David explained.
Elizabethtown Police removed those signs.
Not wanting to be held liable in case a volunteer got hurt on her property, Domingoes asked the volunteers to move. Eventually after several days, they moved to the easement, a strip of land that gives the NCDOT rights to access the property.
According to Domingoes, “I said yeah, but it’s my property. He said they’re exercising their freedom of speech.”
According to Elizabethtown’s Police Chief, as long as people peacefully gather on easements and don’t block traffic, law enforcement can’t remove them.
Domingoes wants to sell the property. She parked her car on the easement to keep volunteers from blocking her “For Sale” sign.
“I get a knock on the door, said Domingoes. “It’s a town officer. Can you please move your car, cause if you don’t I’m going to have to tow it.”
Elizabethtown’s Police Chief admitted that officer was in the wrong, and has since been corrected. Domingoes and her real estate agent, Ken Register is trying to sell the lot for just over $24,000, which is the current tax evaluation.
But Register believes the Board is trying to get around this with the easement loop hole.
“Why buy it when they can forcibly use it for free,” he asked.
The DA says signs can be placed in the easement, since it is zoned commercial and sits empty. However, just because it is legal does not mean David’s office condones volunteers’ and staffs’ behavior.
“We obviously encourage people to get along and be respectful of each other property rights,” he continued, “but whether the law permits us to act is a separate question.”
With increasingly limited mobility, Register worries November’s election could mean more difficulties for Domingoes.
“The whole reason that folks walk in that door over there are to to vote for politicians that protect the rights of people that are suffering right outside the door of that Board of Elections,” he said.
Domingoes tried to sell her property to the county last year, but says commissioners stuck down the measure. She hopes they can come to an agreement before November.