BEAUFORT — After a brief preliminary hearing Monday, the Carteret County Board of Elections dismissed an election protest regarding nine local ballots in the Nov. 3 race for N.C. Supreme Court chief justice.
The election protest was filed by incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who was trailing opponent Associate Justice Paul Newby by a few hundred votes on election night.
In a 4-1 vote Monday afternoon, the county panel dismissed the protest after finding it was filed in compliance with the law but did not establish probable cause of an irregularity, violation of elections law or misconduct. No new evidence or witnesses were considered Monday as part of the proceedings.
“Because the county board is considering whether the complaint, on its face, establishes probable cause, it is not required that these individuals be allowed to speak at the preliminary consideration stage,” BOE Director Caitlin Sabadish said as part of a prepared statement.
Chairperson Susie Cuthrell was the sole dissenting vote on the finding of no probable cause and the motion to dismiss. Ms. Cuthrell said she could not in good conscience vote there was no probable cause when she questioned the validity of the board’s rejection of one, possibly two, of the ballots that were now part of the protest. Specifically, she mentioned a ballot that was rejected because a voter was not registered after having been removed by the state’s list maintenance for not voting in two consecutive federal elections.
“I’m not convinced that we did not deny those provisional ballots when we shouldn’t have,” she said during the preliminary consideration hearing.
The protest, lodged in numerous counties across the state, alleged a “defect in the manner by which the votes were counted or results tabulated sufficient to cast doubt on the apparent results of the election” and possible violation of law, irregularity or misconduct.
In Carteret County, the protest was aimed at just nine of nearly 43,000 ballots: four provisional and five absentee ballots.
Of the nine cases in question, one was from a voter who reported having “cured” their absentee ballot after deficiencies, which the county did not have record of; four were once marked accepted, but upon further review were not; two showed as registration removed despite reported continuous residence in the county; and two were voted after an attempt to register that was unsuccessful.
Monday, board members acknowledged they had reviewed the protest and its attached exhibits and unanimously voted the filing substantially complied with state elections law.
The board split on the question of probable cause, however, with Ms. Cuthrell voting there was establishment of probable cause and the four other members, Jeanette Deese, Amy Holland, Gerald Godette and Dale Gillikin, finding no substantial evidence in the protest to warrant a full hearing.
Ms. Deese said she believed “based on the guidance of staff at the time we voted, we were in compliance with the statute.”
As such, the board mirrored the action in a motion to dismiss, which passed 4-1.
As required by law, county elections staff, working with legal council, will provide written order of the determination to Ms. Beasley and the State Board of Elections. Ms. Sabadish said that will likely happen this week.
Ms. Beasley can appeal the local board’s dismissal to the state board.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 225; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.