New Hanover County election still hinges on Anderson protest

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New Hanover County Board of Elections Chairman Jonathan Washburn swears in John Christian Anderson preceding his hearing on Dec. 1. (File photo)

WILMINGTON – The New Hanover County Board of Elections will hold a meeting next week to determine whether they can finally issue certificates and allow elected county officials be sworn in and take office. The process has been delayed by both recount requests and election protests, most notably one filed by John Christian Anderson last week.

After settling a complaint filed by Densay Sengsoulavong – on behalf of the New Hanover County’s Republican party – and recounting ballots in response to requests from Julia Boseman and Derrick Hickey, the county Board of Elections then held a hearing for Anderson’s protest.

Anderson alleged in his protest letter that the county had been “subjected to a scheme to operate an absentee ballot mill” and that early-voting ballot machines had been tampered with. Anderson specifically claimed to have seen an individual entering the New Hanover County Senior Center between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. on multiple nights.

On Thursday, Dec. 1, the county Board of Elections held a preliminary meeting to see if they would hold a full hearing of Anderson’s protest. After questioning Anderson, the Board ruled to dismiss his protest. The motion gave Anderson five days to appeal to the State Board of Election.

In an appeal to the State, Anderson made additional claims of mishandled votes, writing, “I was in the area where the Board of Elections [sic] around 9:30 p.m. in the evening of November 17th, 2016 and was shocked to see the lights were on and people appeared to be inside … I was concerned that the public had not been notified that vote counting was occurring into the evening.”

Anderson also wrote that “board members treated me with disdain,” and that Board members Jonathan Washburn and Jamie Getty made comments about him to the media that “were nothing short of character assassination.”

Anderson filed his appeal electronically on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at approximately 4:45 p.m. – shortly before the close of the business day at the end of his window for appeal. According to Derek Bowens, director of the county Board of Elections, Anderson did not file his intent to appeal within 24-hours of his county hearing, as the state statute requires.

Anderson disputes this claim, telling Port City Daily that he came with a letter signaling his intent to appeal to the hearing.

“I came with a pre-written appeal after the media stated that my protest would be squashed,” Andreson said, “I turned it in on my exiting.”

Anderson said his appeal – and his original protest – were “not in any way to delay the swearing in of the commission. It was about access to public records and the only way that I could continue to try to get access was to file a protest…which both Jonathan and Jamie as attorneys understood.”

“I am happy to let the protest drop or accept the usual denial of any and all protest by the state board,” Anderson continued, “but I have to preserve the public right to their materials because it is the people’s government.”

At present, the county Board has certified the final tally – including upholding Jonathan Barfield, Patricia Kusek and Woody White as the winners in the race for county commissioner seat. But, the board has not issued certificates. This means the board stands by its final count, but that no officials may yet be sworn in.

Only after the State Board of Elections decides whether or not to hear Anderson’s case can the process be completed. If the state board dismisses Anderson’s appeal, the county will issue certificates early next week. If it decides to hear his case, the election process could extend into 2017.

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