COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - A new election will be held in a Columbus County race that ended with a razor-thin margin on Super Tuesday.
The Republican primary for the Columbus County Commission District 2 seat contest will be re-run after the North Carolina State Board of Elections determined that a sufficient number of ineligible voters cast a ballot in the race.
Board members voted unanimously by phone Tuesday to call for a re-do of the race. Candidates will appear in the same order on the ballot on June 23, which lines up with the 11th Congressional District race being run in another part of the state.
Only Republican and unaffiliated voters will be able to vote in the election.
Board Chair Damon Circosta said he “never takes lightly” calling a new election, and especially so given the backdrop of the novel coronavirus.
Still, board members determined there is no other way to know the will of the people in a race where the top two vote-getters, Mack Ward and Chris Smith, were separated by just four votes.
W. Bernard White will also be on the ballot, as in the initial contest.
During an audit in the week following the March 3 primary, the Columbus County Board of Elections found that 10 ballots containing the commission race had been erroneously given to voters who should not have been voting in the contest.
CCBOE Executive Director Carla Strickland said the ballots were cross-checked with the county’s geocoding, and were not simply clerical errors.
NCSBE attorney Katelyn Love said with the ballots being cast on Election Day, it would be impossible to know which ballots were the improperly-voted ones, so there is no means of determining the true outcome of the race.
Candidates, either representing themselves or with attorneys, were on the Tuesday morning call.
Ward and his attorney argued the election was done legally, and that a new race could not be properly run while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, because the electorate will be afraid to exercise the right to vote.
Smith refuted, saying it was “done illegally," and candidates deserve a fair shot.
The state board is in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus and its effect on voting in the upcoming second primary, and now new election in the Columbus County race.
To deal with the anticipated surge of absentee ballot requests for the June 23 election, the NCSBE is asking the state legislature for additional funding. They are also trying to secure assistance for local boards of election, which will likely see budget cuts due to counties having to adjust for changes in tax revenue due to the virus.
Chair Circosta asked for patience from candidates, staff and the general public, as the board deals with this unprecedented hurdle to the democratic process.