State elections board issues order in Columbus County Sheriff dispute, parties plan appeals

State elections board issues order in Columbus County Sheriff dispute, parties plan appeals

COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - A little more than three weeks after hearing the case in Raleigh, the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) has formally issued its findings in the case of the disputed sheriff election in Columbus County.

In its order, the NCSBE says the county relied too heavily on Greene’s recreational vehicle — an early 2000s Airstream — and that the type of residence does not matter when it comes to establishing domicile.

The order, referencing the CCBOE, reads:

“The majority below appeared to encounter difficulty in their efforts to consider that a candidate, determined to seek public office, may forego comforts and amenities otherwise available in order to establish timely residency within the district. A prospective candidate may choose to live uncomfortably, even when that person has ready access or even legal title to other properties.”

According to the order, the appellants failed to provide sufficient evidence that Greene had abandoned the property as a domicile, and established his permanent residence elsewhere.

The NCSBE order also states that the CCBOE erroneously considered county ordinances prohibiting long-term residence in an RV in their decision.

The order reads:

“When a habitation is discouraged or even prohibited by a separate body of law, that fact is probative only for its value in assessing the likelihood that the person in fact resides at the location. That an act is prohibited does not establish whether the act has occurred. Though may be unlawful for person to spend most nights on a park bench, State law would make that bench — and nowhere else — the voter’s residence for voting purposes.”

The state had already determined that regarding domicile, the litmus test for a voter and for a candidate are one in the same.

Regarding the irregularities on Election Day, as well as evidence of irregular absentee ballot activity within the county, the NCSBE said there was not evidence that enough improper activity occurred to change the outcome of the election, or taint the race as a whole.

Greene’s attorney Boyd Worley says he and his client were happy to see the order published.

“I’m glad the order is back to be able to begin the next step," he said by phone Thursday. "The state board made the appropriate determination and the order reflects that.”

Appeals

Attorneys for those on the other side of the issue say their clients plan to appeal the NCSBE order to the Wake County Superior Court within the allotted 10-day window.

Attorney Ralph Frasier, representing Gloria Smith and Nancy Hill, said he believes the state board did not grasp the argument they were trying to make, and instead applied what he believes to be the wrong interpretation of state law.

“They used a very arbitrary and capricious standard,” Frasier said by phone Thursday.

He said his clients were not arguing that one cannot live in an RV and be legally domiciled — but that despite his claims, Jody Greene does not live in Cerro Gordo in said RV.

Frasier referenced the often-cited power bills that were entered into evidence, saying not only was the account a commercial account during the applicable period, but that the power usage is inconsistent with the claim Greene was residing in it at the time.

He said his client plans to appeal in the next few days.

Attorney Oscar Blanks, representing incumbent Democrat Lewis Hatcher, also referenced the standard the NCSBE used in its determination, and said Hatcher will be likewise appealing.

Worley said they wish the protesters would not appeal, but respect their right to do so.

“It’s certainly their right to appeal if they feel that’s necessary," he said, "but when Jody Greene and Lewis Hatcher settled their civil litigation in Columbus County, they effectively agreed to put their faith and confidence in the State Board of Election, and the State Board of Election has made their decision, and we ask that they adhere to the spirit of that decision and not pursue the appeal further so that our county can move forward.”

State law dictates a 10-day period must be observed from the time the order was issued — in this case Wednesday, May 29 — to allow for protesters to appeal. If that does not occur, the CCBOE is required to issue Greene the certificate of election the state ordered withheld back in December.

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