Bladen County still has no Elections Board

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Making a crazy situation even crazier:

Right now, Bladen County has no board of elections. Earlier this month, the new state board declined to appoint a new county board of elections until the investigation was over. NCSBE spokesperson Patrick Gannon said the board will appoint a new county board at a future meeting but a date for that meeting has not been set.

NCSBE members agreed at the hearing in Raleigh that in light of the information revealed during the testimony, additional oversight is needed of the upcoming special elections in Bladen County. “State board members agreed at the evidentiary hearing that the agency should look closely at the operations and oversight of the Bladen County Board of Elections, given the recent developments,” Gannon said.

Unfortunately, this article is over 3 weeks old, but a teaser of a story buried behind a paywall (that I refuse to pay because I'm already paying that company) reveals the Board is still not empaneled, and the NC GOP has refused to put any (replacement) Republican names forward to fill those seats. Absentee ballots for the Primary will (very soon) have to be sent out, and there's more than just a Congressional special election to be considered:

While the state will be overseeing the election in some form, it will still be up to Bladen County officials to make it happen — and to foot the bill.

Bladen County manager Greg Martin said the state hasn’t provided him with the details, so there isn’t a cost estimate yet. However, Martin said the expense of running an unanticipated election will go beyond what the county has budgeted, and more funds will need to be appropriated.

The 2018-2019 budget for the elections department is just over $355,000.

Each fiscal year the county sees either a primary election or a general election, plus local municipal elections during odd years. The county budgets between $50,000 and $70,000 per year for operating expenses, and around $90,000 for contract labor, which includes polling place employees.

Martin said because the Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor race is county-wide, all polling places will have to be open on Election Day, even if they aren’t in the 9th congressional district or the affected county commission district.

And of course considering the Bladen County Commissioners are probably still angry their efforts to prop up Mark Harris failed, squeezing more money out of them to pay for an election they didn't want is going to be a challenge, to put it mildly.

Not only does the State Board need to monitor Bladen's election operations coming up, they need to be there right effing now to ensure it doesn't turn into another fiasco.

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Side-eye girl is very concerned

that this special election will turn out to be an even worse embarrassment than the first one. As am I.

It is not true that NCGOP has

It is not true that NCGOP has not submitted Bladen BOE nominees. They have had our appointees for weeks.

Here is our letter to NCSBE

March 12, 2019

Kim Westbrook Strach
Executive Director
North Carolina Board of Elections
Post Office Box 27255
Raleigh, NC 27611

Re: Your correspondence of March 9, 2019
Robeson and Bladen Counties

Dear Ms. Strach,

The North Carolina Republican Party is in receipt of your letter dated March 8, 2019 and sent at the direction of the members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections regarding our (NCGOP) nominees to the Bladen County Board of Elections. (attached for reference)

We are surprised and somewhat mystified as to the contents of your letter. It seems to call into question the integrity and moral character of our nominees to the Bladen County Board of Elections, with no reason as to why.

Beginning on March 4, 2019, it was our understanding that the State Board and its staff would conduct a thorough hearing into the problems in Bladen and Robeson counties, which would focus on two separate and distinct issues: The primary inquiry being did any voting irregularities occur in Bladen and Robeson counties, and did those irregularities occur to such a degree that the outcome of the race, as expressed by the voters on election day, was in doubt. The secondary inquiry being should NCSBE make referrals for criminal prosecution as to those individuals responsible for any intentional violations of the law.

Instead, the hearing was cut short due to Dr. Harris’ stipulation that he would support a new election in the 9th Congressional District. This is an understandable political position of a candidate with compromised health; however, it is one that is not ultimately his decision. This was not Dan McCready’s election, and it was not Mark Harris’ election. This election belonged to the voters. The manner in which the hearing was conducted and concluded made the voters a footnote and an afterthought.

We must state for the record that we believe the hearing fell far short of the needs and expectations of the citizens of North Carolina, specifically the 283,000 citizens who cast legal votes in the 2018 9th District Congressional election. Those citizens witnessed the agency disregard the text of the law as administered for decades, the long-standing tradition in North Carolina, and virtually every elections administration principal that is known in the United States. Irregularities in elections must call the outcome of the race into question to justify new elections. The agency’s actions in this matter have dramatically lowered the standard for throwing out legal votes and redoing elections. Why should any voter have faith in elections when their legal votes are so easily wiped away? If elections don’t mean anything, why do we have them?

The agency is well aware that a July or September off-year special election will only see the participation of a fraction of the original voters. This will result in several hundred thousand voters being disenfranchised due to no fault of their own. It does not seem like the Board even tried to make a good faith effort to save their votes.

Make no mistake, the hearing was a political hearing and not a legal proceeding by a compliance agency attempting to resolve disputed vote totals. This hearing should have been conducted so as to serve the duel public policy role of attempting to save every eligible vote while eliminating every ineligible vote. This methodology was adopted by NCSBE as recently as 2016, at the urging of the same law firm that represented Mr. McCready during the recent hearing.

Simply removing County Board members because it is expedient only serves to remove any institutional memory of the County Board of Elections Office. This action would appear to merely paint over the problem without providing any meaningful solution or guidance for future action. County Board’s of Election are bi-partisan to provide meaningful oversight of the County Director and staff in those counties, and to instill confidence in the voting public that trusted people of their party are keeping watch on the staff and one another.
It is particularly concerning that you have suggested we replace our nominees to the County Board of Elections without providing me any reason to do so. As you are aware, the Director of Elections for Bladen County, prior to her retirement, exercised a month’s worth of leave and vacation time during the midst of this investigation, and the Deputy Director has declined to accept an appointment to that position. Sweeping the office of everyone with any experience on how to run an election, with knowledge as to what issues need to be addressed, and foresight as to what warning signs to look for is a recipe for allowing outside parties to compromise the election process.

To be clear, if any of my nominees are implicated in any wrongdoing that occurred in Bladen County, we will be the first to call for their resignation and replacement. As you recall, the North Carolina Republican Party recently supported efforts to remove a local GOP BOE member for questionable actions, and we will not hesitate to do so again if warranted. The North Carolina Republican Party takes its responsibility to the voters extremely seriously. I have seen nothing, however, from the State Board of Elections or the State Board of Elections staff, nor have I heard anything at the hearing which would lead me to believe that my nominees are anything other than upstanding members of their community who have the support and trust of their local citizens.

If you have any information as to their failure to follow the law please provide it to me expeditiously. If this is simply an effort to remove from office anyone with any memory of these problems, I see that as a mistake which would contribute to a lack of oversight rather than increase it.

I agree with the motion of one Democratic Board Member of the State Board of Elections, who wanted the State Board of Elections staff to provide a presence in these two counties and assist in elections oversight. I am at a loss as to why the Chairman of the State Board of Elections did not allow that motion to be heard, as it provides an additional layer of security and trust for the citizens of North Carolina in their elections process.

In conclusion, I support our nominees for the Bladen and Robeson County Boards of Election and call upon you and your office to provide meaningful answers to the questions detailed above. We have had a systematic failure at the State Board level to effectively conclude its investigations in a timely manner and to provide the citizens of this State with the answers they deserve. It is time for the State Board of Elections to provide leadership and answers rather than sweep this problem under the rug.

We will be communicating our ideas to the General Assembly on how to improve these systematic failures going back many years. Clearly, this is a multi-layered issue that needs long term solutions. We do not believe that making our Bladen BOE nominees sacrificial lambs achieves anything. Our nominees remain unchanged.

We thank you and your staff for your service to the State, and hope someday to have restored confidence in the State Board of Elections.

Sincerely,

Robin Hayes
Chairman
North Carolina Republican Party

Dallas Woodhouse

I have revised the content above

to add the word "replacement" candidates, hopefully that will suffice to remove at least some confusion.

As far as coming up with new names (not previously on the Board), that should be really simple, Dallas. When two of your nominees for the State Board were rejected for cause, two more nominees were immediately put forward without a squeak of a complaint by you or the Chairman. But it's evident from the tone of the above letter that you guys are intent on continuing to fight a battle that's already been lost. Understand, the more you lean in like that, the more responsibility you take for the fiasco that happened.

I strongly recommend you re-evaluate that stance, and do everything you can to help make this special election one that can be trusted.

We don't have nominees to

We don't have nominees to replace. We have submitted nominees that are qualified. No evidence implicated these members. We have asked NCSBE to provide us this if they have it.

When the original board letter of March 8th, called into question the "moral" character of our nominees
they made it impossible for us change them. They would be having us agree with the unfounded allegation that these hard working volunteers are morally unfit.

They have nominees. They can vote to accept them, or not

Dallas Woodhouse

No, you don't have to agree

with that assessment. In fact, you can disagree (strongly) with their decision, but still put forward new nominees.

And if you do, I will acknowledge that compromise here on BlueNC.

I suspect we are at an

I suspect we are at an impasse for the time being.

Although we are pleased that the NCSBE is going to meet with the Bladen Board members.

There are a couple of issues here. One is the standard that the board, as stated in the recent meeting
just wants a new start, with people not connected to any of these. This would currently apply to the TWO NCGOP nominees, but not the Governors chair appointee, which is not subject to NCSBE approval. The board has asked Gov. Cooper to rescind the nomination and nominate someone else. We will be watching that closely before we do anything. Although I suspect the Gov. will comply with the request.

We object in the strongest terms to the board putting in a public memo, that will live forever, these words
about our former board members:

" However, as you know, the State Board of Elections
has the duty and responsibility to ensure that all appointees are qualified persons
of good moral character."

......
The agency has significant concerns about reappointing board members who
presided over operations of the Bladen County Board of Elections when these
issues arose. In order to restore public trust in Bladen County’s elections, we
believe it is time for new leadership.
-------

Saying we need a fresh start, is significantly different than implying that our folks lack "moral character"

Dallas Woodhouse

The need to repeal that

The need to repeal that letter and apologize

Dallas Woodhouse