Top 10 Stories 2016: Elections board faced variety of challenges

Published 6:14 pm Thursday, December 29, 2016

A series of elections-related incidents that included voter challenges, lawsuits and recounts is the No. 3 Daily News story for 2016.

It started with a federal court ruling striking down North Carolina’s voter ID law and related elections matters. It ended with a recount in the Beaufort County commissioners race and incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceding to Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general, in the gubernatorial race.

Between the beginning and end were voter challenges, election protests, delayed canvasses and a 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.

“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 in early October 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,” Hopkins, said later. “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.”

After the voter challenges were filed, the North Carolina NAACP filed a lawsuit regarding the voter challenges. A federal judge ordered the Beaufort County Board of Elections to restore any voters removed from voter rolls as a result of the challenges to their voting status before the challenges were filed.

After the Nov. 8 general election, the Civitas Institute filed a motion asking a federal court to expedite the lawsuit it filed just after the election. Civitas sought 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 involved 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.

For about a month after the general election, the local Board of Elections waited on word from the North Carolina State Board of Elections on when it could conduct recounts. Several protests and complaints about ballot counting resulted in delays in certifying election results.

Finally, on Dec. 7, the local Board of Elections conducted recounts. Gary Brinn, with a 60-vote margin over challenger Derik Davis, retained his seat on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

As for protests about felons voting in the general election, they were dismissed after the person filing the protests failed to show at a hearing.

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.


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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