Voter challenges, lawsuits make for an election to remember

Published 6:36 pm Friday, November 25, 2016


Voter challenges, election protests and delayed canvasses — oh, my!

And don’t forget the disturbance caused by a voter during the early voting period, an incident in which the man was charged with interfering with an elections official and second-degree trespass.

Beaufort County’s Board of Elections and elections staff survived the most-recent election cycle, but not after dealing with several challenges that surfaced in the weeks before the Nov. 8 general election. Those challenges meant working long hours — after midnight on some occasions — and weekends. Emails, telephone conversations and listening in on conference calls involving North Carolina State Board of Elections officials and the local board were common, seemingly on a daily basis, especially in the two weeks before the election and two weeks after the election.

Through it all, the board members and board staff made it clear their first and foremost concern was doing everything they could to ensure qualified voters marked ballots and had their votes counted. They wanted every legal vote to count, taking time to identify as many questionable ballots as possible and dealing with each of those ballots on an individual basis.

“This has been the strangest election year in the 18 years I’ve been doing this,” Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, said about the various court decisions related to elections-related matters in recent months.

“This year’s elections have been exhausting. Presidential elections are normally very busy due to increased voter turnout, but the administrative side stays pretty even. This year higher turnout was not our main concern. The administrative side of conducting elections this year have been brutal,” Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director said. “We tried to prepare early, but even that didn’t seem to help us this year. We developed our one-stop plan and then had the courts extend the one-stop period to 17 days. The Belhaven challenges were also an extreme addition to an already hectic schedule. I am so thankful I have a staff I can rely on because the challenges took me completely out of the election side for about two weeks.”

The county board wanted to address the voter challenges as soon as possible. “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,” said board member Tom Payne last month.

“As soon as I thought the majority of work was done with the challenges, the NAACP sued in federal court the week before the elections. I stayed at the office until 3 a.m. … reinstating all the challenges that were sustained due the temporary restraining order that was issued by the courts. I thought once Election Day came and went things would calm down, but it seems I was wrong. Another federal lawsuit concerning registrations at the DMV added processes to Election Day just a week before the election,” she said.

Hopkins continued: “DMV provisionals were the first issue that we delayed canvass for. We had to wait for a court ordered list of provisionals that we had to count. Then came the protests. A second delay was in order to receive direction from the state board about how to handle the protests.”

The county board canvassed Wednesday, certifying the local election results. That same day, the Civitas Institute filed a motion asking a federal court to expedite the lawsuit it filed this past week. Civitas seeks a restraining order, preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against the North Carolina State Board of Elections to prevent it from including ballots cast during same-day registration during the early voting period for the Nov. 8 general election, pending further investigation.

The lawsuit involves about 90,000 people who used the same-day registration process during the early voting period for the Nov. 8 general election. The process allows people to register to vote and mark ballots on the same day. According to the Beaufort County Board of Elections, 410 people in the county did that during this election cycle.

Now, the local elections board is waiting on word from the state board on when it may conduct a recount between incumbent Commissioner Gary Brinn and challenger Derik Davis, both Republicans, each gained on vote from seven provisional ballots approved by the board during its canvass. Updated official 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. Brinn collected 3,290 votes to Davis’ 3,230 votes. The difference between their votes is less than 1 percent.

In the midst of the voter challenges, lawsuits and election protests, Hopkins made a promise to the Beaufort County Board of Elections: “If we (staff) have to, we will work nights and weekends to do what has to be done.

The promise was kept.












About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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