White Oak man is guilty of voter fraud
Voter fraud has reached Haywood County.
White Oak resident Dewey Gidcumb, 52, was found guilty of the felony offense when the jury voted unanimously against him, resulting in a sentence of 12 months probation and 24 hours of community service.
The alleged offense occurred on March 15, 2016, when Gidcumb voted on the Republican primary ballot at the White Oak precinct just 12 days after he had cast his ballot at the one-stop voting station at the Senior Resource Center in Waynesville. Although Gidcumb willingly admitted to the jury that he voted twice, he refused to acknowledge fraudulent intent — a necessary element the state had to prove to gain a successful conviction.
Representing Gidumb was Waynesville attorney Josh Nielson, who claimed in his opening argument that although Gidcumb voted twice, he did so unknowingly.
“Mr. Gidcumb made a misstatement and mistake any of us could have made through absentmindedness,” Nielson told the jury.
Each side called multiple witnesses to the stand, one of which was Shevondea Shipman, the chief judge of the White Oak voting precinct who initialed the paperwork for Gidcumb’s second vote. Although Shipman didn’t really add much weight to either argument, her remorse was compelling.
“I just didn’t check,” she said. “I overlooked it. I wouldn’t have thought Dewey would have voted somewhere else. I would have never thought somebody in White Oak would have voted somewhere else.”
Along with Shipman, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Jones called two other witnesses to the stand — Haywood County Elections Board Chairman Robert Inman and N.C. State Board of Elections Chief Investigator Joan Fleming.
While Inman’s testimony mostly provided background on the voting process, it was Fleming’s testimony which illuminated some of the nuances of Gidcumb’s case.
Fleming, who was not yet chief investigator when she began working the Gidcumb case, is a seasoned fraud investigator, having retired as an FBI agent prior to working for the state of North Carolina. She spoke with Gidcumb, as well as local election officials multiple times before coming to Haywood County in May of last year. Fleming recalled her interviews with Gidcumb, saying that while he was compliant with the investigation, she had reason to believe his second vote was cast with fraudulent intent.
“I see a problem with the reasons and excuses he gave me,” she said.
Gidcumb’s initial reason for voting twice was he thought his votes were for different elections, a claim based on the fact that he didn’t see Agriculture Commissioner candidate Steve Troxler’s name on the first ballot. But when Fleming showed him a screenshot of the ballot style he had seen both times he voted, Troxler’s name was clearly displayed in the bottom-right corner. Fleming also echoed something that Inman had said during his testimony: the one-stop voting stations provide the exact ballot a voter would have seen at any of Haywood County’s 29 voting precincts.
Once the state rested its case, the defense called to the stand a pair of character witnesses, Renee Plemmons, who has worked extensively with Gidcumb through his decade of work in the foster care system, and Gidcumb’s wife, also named Renee.
Plemmons testified that Gidcumb isn’t always good with dates and sometimes forgets meetings. Renee Gidcumb gave compelling testimony regarding her husband’s character and abilities as a father, but also said he is forgetful, joking that he often forgets birthdays and anniversaries.
“That’s just Dewey,” she said. “He just doesn’t remember dates, and that’s OK.”
In a move which could only be characterized as bold, Gidcumb chose to take the stand. While he was able to answer his attorney’s line of questioning with relative ease, things became more intense as Jones cross-examined him.
“You still knew that it was one person, one vote?” he asked. When Gidcumb said yes, he pressed further, saying, “You’ve been voting in primaries for 20 years. How would you think there was another primary?”
“I don’t even remember what I did three days ago,” Gidcumb replied.
Jones accused Gidcumb of voting twice with fraudulent intent, the motive for which was that he “wanted to test the system,” an allegation which moved Gidcumb to tears.
“Why would I endanger their security like that,” he said in reference to the foster children he could lose custody of with a guilty verdict. “I don’t break the law, and I didn’t do this.”
He added that Fleming intimidated him during the interrogation, which was conducted at the Sheriff’s office.
“I was scared,” he said. “I’d never been in a room like that … I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do.”
As Jones continued to press Gidcumb, Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts put a halt to the line of questioning by calling a brief recess. Upon return, Jones had no further questions for Gidcumb, and the defense rested its case.
The trial’s final twist came when the state recalled Fleming to take the stand, and the state provided the footage from Fleming’s interrogation of Gidcumb.
Although Gidcumb said Fleming was an intimidating figure in the interrogation room, especially considering the venue, the footage proved otherwise. Although Gidcumb had said Fleming “grilled” him, she argued that she didn’t.
“He has not seen what it looks like when I grill a witness, which is pretty rare.” she said.
Along with the footage showing that Gidcumb had a relatively high level of knowledge regarding the voting process, the key moment Jones highlighted was when Fleming prompted Gidcumb to read the statement, which he signed at the White Oak voting station, verifying he had not already voted in the election.
“He said, ‘I’m incriminating myself’ before he even read it,” Fleming noted when prompted by Jones, implying that he did in fact know what the agreement said, despite his claim that he had failed to read it.
While Nielson’s closing argument was essentially a mirror of his opening argument, Jones went for the throat, making a series of claims which were based off evidence and witness testimony, all supporting the argument that Gidcumb knew his second vote was fraudulent. Perhaps Jones’s most serious implication, was that the emotional nature of Gidcumb’s testimony was fabricated.
“He turned off his tears like that,” Jones said, snapping his fingers.
Following the closing arguments, the jury had trouble with the deliberation, and even returned to the courtroom multiple times — once to receive clarification on the definition of the terms “intent” and “fraudulent,” and once because the jurors were having trouble reaching a unanimous verdict. However, following a reminder from Judge Letts regarding their duties and responsibilities, after almost three-and-a-half hours of deliberation, they returned a guilty verdict, eliciting an emotional response from both Gidcumb and his wife.
Although Judge Letts did suspend Gidcumb’s sentence, meaning he only has to serve 12 months probation and perform 24 hours of community service, he made a point to state the importance of upholding the law when it comes to voting.
He noted that while many of the crimes he tries in his courtroom often have one or a few victims, this crime had 9.5 million victims.
“This was an act of political violence,” he said.