County board awaits state board’s guidance on DMV voter registrations
Published 6:24 pm Saturday, November 19, 2016
The ballot canvass scheduled for Friday by the Beaufort County Board of Elections is delayed until 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The delay is the result of a federal court ruling affecting other boards of elections in the state.
On Oct. 27, a federal judge issued the ruling as the result of a lawsuit regarding people who said they registered at a N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles office but did not appear on voter rolls when they went to the polls. Those people were allowed to cast provisional ballots. County boards of elections have been waiting for the North Carolina State Board of Elections to let them know which provisional ballots must be counted among those marked by voters whose names do not show up on voters rolls but claim to have registered or changed their addresses through DMV or offices that provide public assistance.
The judge’s order requires such votes be counted, unless a voter filled out a “declination” form at a DMV office, indicating that voter’s decision not to register to vote.
In Beaufort County, 38 such provisional ballots will be dealt with Tuesday, once the state board provides guidance on which ballots to approve and be added to vote totals.
Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, explained the DMV voter registration issue to board members Jay McRoy (chairman), John Tate and Tom Payne. “There was a court decision of couple of weeks ago that said that the DMV was not living up to their end of the motor-voter (law) … and was not getting its information to us. Anita (Branch, deputy elections director) can attest to the problems we’ve had with DMV over the past years, this year especially,” she said. “They didn’t have signatures on them, they were not getting scanned in. There were all kinds of issues this year.”
Hopkins continued: “The court order says that if a voter attests to registering at the DMV, we are to count that, regardless of whether we have any proof of it, if they attest to it, unless DMV can produce a signed declination saying that didn’t want to vote. We did those on Election Day.”
Board staff called affected voters, asking them to visit the board’s office so staff could offer them an opportunity to attest that they registered at a DMV office. “We’ve made every effort we can to get them to come in,” Hopkins said. Two such voters indicated they would come by the office, but did not do so.
While waiting on instruction from the state board, the county board counted absentee ballots that came in after the election and before deadlines earlier this week. The board also dealt with provisional ballots (those not affected by the judge’s ruling), approving some and rejecting others.
“Supplemental absentees and a partial count of provisional ballots have been uploaded to the State Board of Elections website for election results. The only ballots that could possibly be counted at the canvass meeting would be any provisionals that are to be counted by court order. The Beaufort County Board of Elections is waiting for a list of court-ordered provisional ballots from the State Board of Elections and the DMV,” Harris wrote in an email sent to candidates, political party officials and others.
The board’s approval of provisional ballots Thursday resulted in Gary Brinn, an incumbent on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners receiving 3,289 votes, a gain of 18 votes. Derik Davis picked up 11 votes. Depending on the outcome of the canvass Tuesday, there is a possibility Davis would be eligible to call for a recount involving him and Brinn.
Updated unofficial vote totals show Brinn as the fourth-highest vote-getter in the commissioners contest, just 60 votes ahead of Derik Davis, who finished fifth among seven candidates. The difference between their votes is less than 1 percent.
Under North Carolina law (General Statute 163-182), a candidate can demand a recount if the difference between the votes for that candidate and the votes of the winning candidate is less than 1 percent of the total votes cast in a non-statewide race, or in the case of a multi-seat ballot item, 1 percent of the votes cast for those two candidates.