Going the extra mile

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, November 3, 2016

Since the 139 voters challenges were filed in Beaufort County early last month, the Beaufort County Board of Elections has conducted several preliminary hearings and full hearings on those challenges. Through it all, the board — Chairman Jay McRoy, John Tate and Tom Payne — and its staff have kept one thing in mind as it addressed each challenge — preserving a challenged voter’s right to vote when it could do so.

During one of the board’s first hearings on challenged voters, Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, said, “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.”

At that same meeting, Payne said, “I’d like to go on and move on it so that way we have it cleaned up by one-stop (voting). I think it’s our responsibility.” Board member John Tate concurred: “We’re unanimous on that one.”

“Since that (Oct. 7) meeting, we’ve had some more challenges brought forward, and we want the list to be accurate. If a person is eligible to vote, we want them to be able to vote. If they’re not eligible to vote, they need to be removed,” McRoy said after the initial 29 challenges were filed.

The county board has made it clear that it is following advice from the state board, which contends the individual voter challenges are allowed.

As for some challenged voters being removed from the voter rolls, if a challenged voter does not show up at a hearing to consider his challenge, that will result in the challenge being automatically sustained and that voter being removed from voter rolls. That’s the law in North Carolina.

At the second full hearing Saturday, the board went the extra mile in trying to keep from removing challenged voters from voter rolls. Board members opted to continue 14 challenges to provide those people opportunities to update their voter information so they can note in the Nov. 8 general election, if they are eligible to do so.

“Let’s make it clear, if the challenge is not withdrawn and we don’t have anymore evidence from the challenged voter … at our hearing on Nov. 7, we will sustain those challenges. That will be the plan because we don’t have any choice at the point. We know what evidence we have,” said Tate.

This Board of Elections is doing what it can, under the law, to keep challenged voters going to the polls and marking ballots. There’s nothing wrong with that.