State News

Invalid Ballots In Black Race Raise Possibility Of New Election

Posted November 14, 2006

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— Hundreds of ballots in House Speaker Jim Black's tight race for re-election are invalid, election officials said Tuesday, possibly setting up a new election.

About 450 voters who don't live in House District 100 cast ballots in the hotly contested race between Black and Republican challenger Hal Jordan. Unofficial results last week had Black only seven votes ahead of Jordan with provisional ballots outstanding.

A precinct in Charlotte is split between two House districts, and Mecklenburg County Board of Elections officials said Tuesday that precinct officials gave 446 voters the wrong ballot.

Because of electronic voting, officials know who the voters are, but don't know how they voted. They said there's no way to separate the incorrect votes from the correct ones.

Mecklenburg County officials referred the problem to the State Board of Elections, which has the power to call a new election.

"It certainly brings a new twist to a hotly contested race," State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said.

The ballot controversy is the latest development in a campaign that was marked by Black's ties to state and federal corruption investigations.

He already has been found guilty of campaign-finance violations, a former aide pleaded no contest to a lobbying violation and his choice for lottery commissioner was convicted of fraud. Also, a former lawmaker has named him as a co-conspirator in a bribery scheme.

"You've got to be kidding me," said Bill Peaslee, chief of staff and legal counsel for the state Republican Party, describing his initial reaction to the news of the invalid ballots.

Peaslee and other Republicans immediately began calling Tuesday for a new election to resolve teh dispute, while Democrats said one wouldn't be needed.

"I don't think under state law there really is another alternative than a new election in the district," Peaslee said.

Because Jordan won the disputed precinct by a 3-1 margin, state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said simple math would hand the victory to Black without a new election.

Toss out the invalid ballots and give Jordan all 105 eligible votes from the precinct, and Black would still win, Meek said.

"The reality is, both reason and law dictates that, if an error doesn't change the outcome of the election, then it doesn't make any sense to have a new election," he said.

Black's attorney has asked the state board to hold an emergency meeting on the matter, and Black said in a statement he's confident he will retain his seat after every eligible vote is counted.
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