State elections board to address complaints at Tuesday meeting
Posted November 20, 2016
Updated November 22, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — The State Board of Elections voted unanimously Sunday to hold a meeting in Raleigh on Tuesday to decide matters of law related to election complaints that have been filed with more than 50 county boards of elections. The state board also voted to take jurisdiction in Bladen County, where allegations of misconduct by voter turnout volunteers has come under scrutiny by state investigators.
At the Raleigh meeting, set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, the state board intends to issue legal guidance to counties on how to handle allegations of deceased voters, voters who have active felonies and people who may have voted in two states, as well as whether counties can void the votes of people who they find out after Election Day were not eligible to vote.
The board declined to assume jurisdiction over all local protests, as requested by Gov. Pat McCrory's campaign. Campaign manager Russell Peck asked the board in a letter dated Friday to take jurisdiction over the protests "to prevent inconsistent results among the counties and facilitate a quicker resolution of the issues raised by the protests."
In a lengthy discussion, board members decided that, while assuming jurisdiction would prevent inconsistent application of law, that goal could also be met by issuing legal guidelines to counties while allowing the fact-finding work for the protests to be handled locally.
The board also weighed but decided against putting a stay on county boards hearing protests while the state board works on legal guidance.
Instead, the board will notify counties that it is holding the meeting and may make decisions that retroactively affect local rulings, which could require the local boards to reopen a complaint or even canvass again.
"Let the chips fall where they may," said board secretary Rhonda Amoroso, a Republican. "If they can work it out in canvass and there’s no issue, then that’s one less county."
The protests, filed by Republican McCrory supporters, generally fall into two categories. In the first, individual voters in each county protest some number of early voters, claiming that those voters are active felons, are deceased or have voted in two states. Five county boards of elections heard those protests Friday, and all five dismissed virtually all of them as erroneous or insufficiently proven.
In the second category, a voter from a county files a protest alleging that voter assistance groups funded by the state Democratic Party have filled out mail-in absentee ballots for voters without reporting their assistance, as required by law, on the ballot. Bladen County was the first location for such a protest, but others have subsequently been filed in Durham, Franklin and several other counties.
The voter assistance groups being protested all have ties to African-American organizations in their regions, a fact noted and criticized by both the NAACP and the liberal A. Philip Randolph Institute. However, state elections director Kim Strach said she had learned enough about the first such probe in Bladen County to have concerns about criminal activity. The board will now take over that investigation.
Another issue raised at the meeting was the question of voters who have active felonies that take effect between regularly scheduled monthly voter registration list maintenance.
Board attorney Josh Lawson said that the agency’s IT director, Marc Burris, has set up a database merging criminal records with elections records. After hearing reports about complaints of active felons voting, Lawson said, Burris decided on his own to go into the office and run a cross-check using first and last name, date of birth and driver’s license number.
Burris found evidence that 339 active felons had been able to cast ballots in the most recent election.
Board member Josh Malcolm, a Democrat, questioned the motivation for Burris’ action. Lawson said Burris had been "disturbed" by news reports about felons voting.
"Access to those criminal databases is governed by procedures and steps," Malcolm said. "If you’re telling me that this was all done based on someone’s own personal decision, that concerns me."
Lawson said Burris has access to those databases as part of his job.
"I understand where the timing of this casts a shade very different," Lawson said. "It certainly would have been in the normal course of his duties here."
Under the normal process for removing felons, those voters would receive written notice that their registrations had been rejected and that they have 30 days to appeal. That led to questions about what legal process local boards should follow when information received after Election Day indicates a voter was not eligible. That’s one of the issues the board will discuss Tuesday.
"It’s very troubling to me to have all this develop," said Amoroso. "To me, it appears, and it may appear to folks in the public, that we have a systemic issue here of voter fraud activities.
"We need to have honest and fair elections in this state, and we need to do whatever we have to do to make that happen here. It definitely is going to affect the outcome of several close races that are in front of us," Amoroso continued. "If someone is voting and they’re ineligible to vote, then my vote doesn’t count either. It puts a cloud over the integrity of the election process in North Carolina. We need to figure out how to resolve this."
After a lengthy discussion, the board decided its Tuesday meeting will include briefs and arguments from attorneys representing the campaigns of McCrory and his Democratic rival, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and from other recognized parties, but board members asked Lawson and Strach to set time limits and develop an agenda, including time limitations for speakers.
"Let’s not have another marathon hearing," said Republican board chairman Grant Whitney, referring to a 12-hour meeting on Oct. 8 to set early voting schedules in dozens of counties.
"It’s going to take some time" to hear all the interested parties, cautioned Malcolm. However, he added, "we’ve got to get on with the canvass."