SARAH LOWERY and
Lincoln Times-News Staff
With challenges to 27 absentee ballot requests in last weekâ€™s city elections aimed squarely at making state officials commit to a consistent policy in advance of next yearâ€™s elections, the North Carolina Board of Elections appears to be working to do just that.
Lincoln County Board of Elections Chair Bob Richardson told a meeting of the local board on Tuesday that the state board is working to find a resolution or make a ruling on the issue.
At the direction of state officials, Richardson and the local board have designated 1 p.m. Monday for a preliminary hearing on the recent challenges.
Whether the state will offer further guidance on the matter by that time remains unclear. Whatever the Lincoln board decides, an appeal could go to the state.
At issue is how literally a state law requiring that an absentee ballot request be filled out entirely by the person seeking it should be enforced.
Republicans have claimed that different handwriting or use of questionable forms on some absentee ballot requests used in the city elections should have led to their rejection.
Although Democrats benefited from an effective absentee vote effort during the city elections, the Republican complainants have said they know that not enough votes are in question to change the outcome of any of the races, and some of the questioned absentee ballot requests may have involved Republicans or Democrats voting for Republicans.
County Republican activist Martin Oakes of Denver told the Times-News last week that he worked to bring the challenges before the local election board so that everyone would know how the rules are likely to be enforced in advance of the 2012 elections.
So far, local officials have not given any indication about how they lean on the issue.
The Times-News reported Monday that state elections officials had not responded to a public records request made by the newspaper regarding any correspondence between state and local elections officials about irregularities with absentee ballot requests. However, late Monday N.C. Board of Elections Deputy Director Johnnie McLean did respond, saying Lincoln officialsâ€™ only question to her was regarding a disabled individual who would not physically be able to fill out his own request.
Both state and local election boards are currently controlled by Democrats, since under North Carolina the party of the current governor holds a majority on all elections boards.
Oakes has made little secret of his interest, not necessarily in blocking the questioned ballot-request practices, but in Republicans organizing an effort to do the same thing in 2012, which he said was an effective practice before state laws were changed in 2002.
Meanwhile, the Lincoln County election board had little trouble with one part of its business on Tuesday. Results of last weekâ€™s city elections were certified unanimously, with re-elections for all three incumbents, Republican Mayor John Gilleland Jr., Democratic Ward II City Council member Dr. John â€œLesâ€ Cloninger and Democratic Ward IV City Council member Larry Mac Hovis.