New Hanover County Board of Elections certifies election, then reverses decision

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Members of the New Hanover County Board of Elections on Thursday held fast to their opinions that an election protest filed by resident John Christian Anderson was “frivolous” and meant to “delay the democratic process,” but they ultimately backed off a split vote earlier in the day to accept vote totals and certify the county’s election results.

The Board heard from Anderson and election officials early Thursday, before delivering a terse rejection of Anderson’s claim.  The board cited the fact that the results of the local election could be held up as late as January before being resolved (including a close four-way contest in the County Commissioners race). Board members also stated openly that Anderson’s complaint had no merit and was meant solely to delay the election from concluding.

The board made this decision despite the warning of Deputy County Attorney Kemp Burpeau that it could run afoul of state law that details when county election boards can make final decisions when recounts or protests are pending.

The board then voted 2-1 to certify the county election results, with Thomas C. Pollard in objection, ; though Pollard had been critical of Anderson’s complaint as well.

Board members Jamie Getty and Chairman Jonathan Washburn said they were willing to take such a risk to preserve the election process.

“If we don’t send a message here,” Getty said, “it won’t stop. [Anderson] has done this before, in 2014. He’ll do it again. And it will signal that this is an effective way to derail our electoral process. It will happen every election.”

However, soon after the meeting concluded, the board met again in emergency session and rescinded the earlier vote, again 2-1, but with Getty switching votes, to rescind its earlier decision.

Election Director Derek Bowmen said that the acting counsel for the State Board of Election “strongly suggested” via telephone that the local decision was not in compliance with state statutes.

All three board members expressed frustration with the process. Washburn, however, refused to change his vote, reiterating his earlier comments, saying again that Anderson’s complaint was frivolous and “designed exclusively to delay the democratic process.”

Bowens informed the board that a statewide recount is expected next week, if not for the gubernatorial race, then for the much closer State Auditor race between incumbent Beth Wood (D) and Charles Stuber (R).

A statewide recount will satisfy calls from county commissioner candidates Derrick Hickey (R) and Julia Boseman for a recount in the county, Washburn said.