Ballots still being counted in Columbus Co.; candidate for sheriff files complaint with county Board of Elections

Ballots still being counted in Columbus County could affect close races

COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - It has been more than one week since Election Day, but not all ballots have been counted yet and a candidate for sheriff has filed a complaint with the Columbus County Board of Elections.

Republican Jody Greene leads incumbent Sheriff Lewis Hatcher by 52 votes in preliminary results from Election Day. In a Nov. 8 letter sent to the county Board of Elections, Tabor City attorney Boyd T. Worley said his firm requested “that all provisional and absentee ballots be secured under lock and key and all access be restricted to the same. ... We trust that actual numbers of the absentee and provisional ballots will not change between (Nov. 8) and the conclusion of the canvass.”

In a handwritten portion of the letter, Greene claims that on Election Day, some voters were wrongfully denied the opportunity to vote and that a woman in Whiteville was “bragging that she had voted twice in this election.”

Board of Elections Director Carla Strickland said Friday morning that the board has accepted Greene’s complaint but has not decided when they would hear it.

A provisional ballot is one a poll worker has questions about on Election Day — like a voter showing up to the wrong precinct — so it is set aside. Columbus County Board of Elections officials started sorting through the 150 provisional ballots at 11 a.m. Thursday, deciding whether to approve or deny each one.

Ninety-three provisional ballots were approved Thursday, 57 were denied and BOE officials were counting supplemental absentee ballots Thursday night.

County Commissioner James Prevatte said he had never seen it as crowded as Thursday to watch counting of provisional ballots. He attributed it to the tight races, but also citizens' concerns for the electoral process in their county.

“I don’t think our citizens trust the process as well (as before)," Prevatte said. "I think that whatever the process shows, it will show us areas we need to improve in and then we need to learn from those situations and correct them so that we don’t have to find those problems showing up again.”

After approving or denying the provisional ballots, the board sorted through the remaining absentee ballots, or absentee ballots that were postmarked Nov. 6, but didn’t make it to the Board of Elections until after Election Day.

Voters who didn’t show identification on Election Day were given until 5 p.m. Thursday to show some type of ID for their provisional ballots to be approved. Then, board officials will start counting the approved provisional ballots.

Prevatte said Columbus County has had a history of problems in politics, such as ballots coming in late, people who felt intimidated when they went to the polls, equipment breaking and misplaced ballots. He said to fix this, poll workers and county leaders need to focus on the process.

“I think that there’s a way of educating more, retaining good people who are working in the elections process who have some experience and keeping the experience where it needs to be and letting the process and the democracy work correctly," Prevatte said.

Community members are also following the liquor by the drink referendum in Tabor City. It passed 385-378, but the provisional ballots could change that.

No results are official until canvass day on Friday. If any race ends with a one percent or less margin, there’s a mandatory recount.

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