A question of timing

Published 3:24 pm Thursday, October 20, 2016

Challenging the right of a person to vote is a serious matter, and such a challenge should not be made lightly.

On Monday, the Beaufort County Board of Elections will conduct a hearing on 21 voter challenges. On Oct. 29, the board could deal with as many as 86 voter challenges.

Voter challenges are a way of making sure only properly registered voters mark ballots. There’s a list of reasons why a voter’s registration may be challenged, ranging from the person not being a U.S. citizen to the person not being a resident of the municipality in which he is registered to the person being dead.

All of the recent challenges filed with the Board of Elections focus on people who live or once lived in the Belhaven precinct. By the way, many of the challenged voters are black and Democrats.

The impetus for the challenges seems to be campaign literature mailed to people about a year ago before the 2015 municipal elections. Under state law, returned “mailers” can be used as prima facie evidence that someone no longer lives at the address to which the campaign literature was mailed. Some of the mailers were returned because they were not sent to a person’s post-office box. Instead, they were sent to a person’s street address, where there is no mail receptacle.

Some challenges, once investigated by elections officials, resulted in some voters being removed from the list of voters, mostly because they moved out of the precinct or county.

Elections officials are taking the challenges, some filed just minutes before the deadline to file them, extremely seriously. “I don’t think we need to take this lightly, and I’d rather take a step back and make sure we do it properly because we’re talking about someone’s right to vote,” Hopkins told the county board. “If we remove them, even though this is stemming from a municipal election, we’re talking about removing them prior to a presidential election where they could very well be valid voters within Beaufort County and not just the municipality.”

Any voter who has been challenged and does not show up at one of the two hearings will automatically be removed from the county’s list of registered voters, according to Hopkins.

No doubt some people may have questions regarding the challenges. Here’s a question that might come up at one of the hearings: why did it take about a year after the mailings were returned for someone to file challenges just before the Nov. 8 general election?

Anyone have an answer?