BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - After an investigation that brought months of national media attention and resulted in criminal election fraud charges, the results of three new elections are in, but due to a razor-thin margin, one of the races may still be up in the air.
Tuesday’s election was the result of a North Carolina State Board of Election investigation that found evidence of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties. In a unanimous vote in February, the board decided to hold new elections in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, as well as in two local Bladen County races.
Republicans selected state Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenberg) as the party’s nominee in the new 9th district race out of a field of 10 candidates.
Bishop easily topped the field and avoided a runoff by earning nearly 48 percent of the vote, with Stony Rushing coming in second with 19 percent and Matthew Ridenhour third with 17 percent.
Bishop will face Democrat Dan McCready, Green Party candidate Allen Smith and Libertarian Jeff Scott in the general election in September.
Bishop, a Charlotte attorney, sponsored legislation in 2016 voiding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. The legislation was known as the “bathroom bill” or “HB2” and drew national attention.
Two Bladen County government seats were also on the ballot Tuesday.
Final results were delayed after a discrepancy at the Hollow precinct in Tar Heel.
Bladen County Board of Elections officials said a precinct worker mistakenly fed ballots that had already been counted into the tabulator, rather than the rejected ballots that were supposed to be re-fed into the machine, after the polls closed.
That led to a difference in the number of ballots on hand and the number of votes counted at the end of the day.
Bladen County BOE member Patricia Sheppard said it was helpful to have the North Carolina State Board of Elections on hand to help them with the Hollow precinct issue, as well as a similar issue with absentee by mail ballots Tuesday afternoon.
“If this had happened without the state [representatives] here, I don’t know what we would have done. We probably would have had no returns until we could have gotten them down here,” she said.
When the results finally came in around 11:30 p.m., incumbent democrat Russell Priest had come from behind to take a four vote victory over republican Wayne Edge in the County Commission District 3 race.
Bladen County Commission District 3 results:
- Russell Priest-Incumbent (D): 50.15% - 676 votes
- Wayne Edge (R): 49.85% - 672 votes
The four-vote victory for Priest does fall within the margin that allows Edge to call for a recount, and does not take into account any provisional or absentee ballots that have yet to be counted.
After the razor-thin margin at the end of Election Day was announced, Priest said he realizes it isn’t settled yet, but that he is optimistic.
“Just like before, you have to hurry and wait, and it’s not a good feeling, but it’s the only feeling I’ve got right now.” he said.
Priest has remained on the county commission despite the issues with the election, which is in line with state law. He said he has felt uncomfortable serving in the position while the issue remained unsettled, but he’s hoping now things can move forward.
“I love Bladen County, and I’ve been here all my life,” he said. “I’m going to be the same as I’ve always been, open minded, honest.”
In the race for a pair of seats on the Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisory Board, incumbents Earl Storms and Charles Gillespie retained their seats by defeating Tim Gause.
Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor results:
- Earl Storms: 35.20% - 1,140
- Charles Wendell Gillespie: 33.65% - 1,090
- Tim Gause: 29.45% - 954
- Write-In (Miscellaneous): 1.76% - 55
The results from Tuesday’s elections are unofficial until they are canvassed by elections officials. That is scheduled for Friday, May 24, 2019 at county elections offices.