Voter influence ‘honest mistake’

Published 6:58 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2013



Inappropriate voter influence on the part of Belhaven poll workers has not been substantiated, according to Kellie Hopkins, elections director at the Beaufort County Board of Elections.

After election results were released Tuesday night, allegations that poll workers were intentionally seeking to sway voters surfaced, and while there is basis for the report, Hopkins said the incident stemmed from a last-minute, write-in campaign and an inexperienced poll worker.

Hopkins said, to her knowledge, Karen Fisher’s campaign as a write-in candidate for the East End Alderman seat on the town board began the morning of the election, but it was the confusion surrounding the late run that led a new poll worker to mention Fisher’s name to several voters as a write-in candidate. But not for long, Hopkins said.

“It may have happened to 10 voters before it was caught,” Hopkins said. “I really don’t think they intended to sway voters — they thought they were doing a service to the voters.”

The race was for the East End Alderman seat, and the unexpired term of Cindy Ross, who left the board earlier in the year. Julian Goff ran unopposed for the seat until the morning of the election, and as Goff was elected by an uncontestable margin (290 -120), Hopkins indicated the Board of Elections will not pursue the matter. She said the issue does not influence any other Belhaven race.

“Even if that poll worker convinced a single voter, it wouldn’t have affected the Carawan-Williams race,” Hopkins said.

Results from the other East End Alderman race had incumbent Steve Carawan and challenger Tony Williams in a 228-228 tie. Hopkins explained the race may be subject to a recount, because by adding early voters’ numbers, Williams came out the winner with 235 votes to Carawan’s 231, a difference of only four votes. A recount can be requested if the difference between the two numbers is 1 percent or less of total votes — in this case, four votes. But according to Hopkins, whether 235-231 will remain the final vote count depends on the validity of two provisional ballots cast in the election. Hopkins described provisional ballots as “a fail-safe voting method in case there was a clerical error” that would lead to a voter’s name mistakenly removed from the registry, or never added at all.

“We work for the voter, not the candidate,” Hopkins said. “It is our job to make sure that the voters’ voices are heard. If the (Elections) Board sees there are discrepancies, they will take that into consideration and, if they see the need, they could request a new election be ordered by the state board.”

Hopkins said the provisional ballots will be researched and vetted this week. If found to be valid, the two votes in the Carawan-Williams race will be added to the vote results next Tuesday. Unless the votes go in Williams’ favor, a recount would still be an option.

“But the candidate will have to make that request,” Hopkins added.