Another one-vote election winner has emerged and has created controversy in a small town in eastern North Carolina.
While not on the same scale as the Virginia House of Delegates row that has that state’s legislative power up for grabs, Ricky Hines just wants to take his seat on the Winterville town council, according to a news release.
Hines apparently defeated incumbent board member John Hill by a single vote in the Nov. 7 election. But reaching that conclusion has been controversial.
Hill held an eight-vote advantage on election night before absentee and provisional ballots were counted. When those votes were included, Hines overtook Hill by a vote. Subsequently, it was discovered that a mapping error that was not found before the election began had allowed about 10 people to vote who were not eligible. They lived in an area that Winterville is annexing but that process isn’t complete.
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The Pitt County Board of Elections certified Hines’ win on Nov. 27 — 10 days after the canvass occurred on Nov 17.
Since then the election was uncertified and the fight now is headed to court.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a petition in Wake County Superior Court Wednesday on behalf of Hines. They’re requesting the court honor the original election certification and award Hines his seat on the town council.
The State Board of Elections had previsously filed a petition for judicial review in the case, requesting a new election be held.
Hines and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice claim the staff of the N.C. State Board of Elections urged the Pitt County Board of Elections to decertify the election results and ordered that incumbent John Hill retain his seat despite losing the election.
“This election was certified and state law does not allow a local board of elections to revoke that certification once it has been granted,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
They said Hines’ margin of victory was one vote and his election was made official when the Pitt County Board of Elections issued him a certificate of election on Nov. 27.
Prior to the certification and the canvass, an error was discovered that showed a small group of people may have been included in the election when they were not yet eligible. A mapping error prematurely placed parts of two new streets in the town limits before their annexation was complete. The mistake covered residences that were not yet part of the town.
Hill requested a recount and it occurred on Nov. 21. The results did not change and Hines still maintained his one-vote margin over Hill.
State law permits election protests to be filed after a recount, which in this case was up until Nov. 22. No one entered a protest, according to the local board of election.
“The geocoding error was well known, it was reported widely in the press, and every Winterville resident had the opportunity to file a protest,” Riggs said. “Overturning the election and circumventing the process now is wrong.”
The State Board of Election took the position that the number of voters who were ineligible to cast ballots in the race was greater than the margin of victory and that a new election should be held.
“We know undisputed errors in that election affected more ballots than the margin of victory,” said State Board of Elections spokesman Patrick Gannon. “It would be bad precedent to certify elections we know to be in doubt. This is about protecting the rights of all of Winterville’s voters.”
The State Board of Elections is ultimately responsible for supervising the elections in the state. Under state law, it can take any “action necessary to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.”
On Dec. 6, the county board of elections started the process to overturn the election.
“I thought we were done once the election was certified,” Hines said. “What’s happening now is undermining the ability of voters in Winterville to have their certified representative govern. That is unacceptable and undemocratic.”
The hearing will be held Dec. 29 in Wake County Superior Court.