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Democracy In Action - The Count After The Vote
Confusing report leads to questions about write-in votes
November 16, 2021

wenty-six ballots allegedly thrown out? They were all there and counted. At what is usually a by-the-book canvass, Board of Elections Director Lisa Bennett took time to clear up confusion created by a newspaper report.

Last week, the Pamlico County Elections Board held a canvass for the recent municipal elections. Candidates and members of the public were invited to watch and ask questions, not just because public involvement in the elections process is crucial, but because there had been an allegation of election tampering in the Bayboro municipal election reported to the NC Board of Elections.

Board of Elections Chairman Delcine Gibbs.

The allegation stemmed from a potentially confusing report in the New Bern Sun Journal newspaper about the number of votes a Bayboro write-in candidate received. Though ballots are counted at the polls the night of the election (in this case November 2, 2021) and reported to the NC State Board of Elections website, the results are not official until the canvass – where every ballot cast is accounted for, and all valid votes are included in the final count. The canvass was held last week at the Bayboro County Courthouse.

Pamlico County’s municipal elections are non-partisan, and were held to elect mayors, commissioners, and council members.

In Bayboro’s election, voters were able to choose two candidates to fill the Commissioner seats. That could have been the two candidates already on the ballot (Glenn Williamson and Roosevelt Stokes, Jr.), two write-in candidates of the voter’s choosing, or a combination of both.

Board of Elections members Mary Helen Boone and Duncan Harrison sign the machine tapes certifying the provisional ballot count.

On Election Day, Vanessa Cole and David Roberson, two people who did not file to be on the ballot but who could still be counted as write-in candidates stood outside the Bayboro Court House and spoke to voters as they arrived. When the elections concluded on the night of November 2, poll workers concluded that Glenn Williamson had received 48 votes, Roosevelt Stokes, Jr. had received 44, and there were 64 votes for the write-in candidates. It was not stated how many write-in candidates there were.

These numbers were reported to the NC State Board of Elections website as the unofficial election numbers.

A report in the Sun Journal led some to believe that a write-in candidate won a commissioner seat in the Bayboro municipal election with 68 votes, 20 more than the next candidate – a candidate on the ballot.

Board of Elections member Russell Richards opens a provisional ballot.

When the Pamlico County Board of Elections met to count the write-in votes on Thursday, those 68 votes for write-in candidates were split between four people: 32 votes for Vanessa Cole, 30 for David Roberson, and 1 vote each for two other individuals.

Comparing the breakdown of the write-in election results with the results from the Sun Journal, some write-in candidates and members of the public assumed there had been a case of election tampering.

Someone, said Board of Elections Director Lisa Bennett, made a report to the NC Board of Elections that 26 ballots had been thrown out.

Bennett invited the candidates and members of the public who had raised questions to the canvass to watch the Board at work, and to learn more about how the validation of write-in candidate ballots worked. Only one person showed: Kelvin Credle (also called “KC”).

Board of Elections Director Lisa Bennet stands at the head of the table, explaining the counting and validation of write-in candidates. Four of the five members of the Pamlico Board of Elections are seated at the table.

After a lengthy presentation explaining that there were several write-in candidates, Credle asked why the Sun Journal had reported the 68 votes for one candidate. Bennett said neither she nor anyone at the Pamlico Board of Elections had spoken directly with the New Bern Sun Journal about the election.

She did receive an email from the paper on Wednesday, November 3, and read aloud questions about incumbent candidates along with her responses. In her email response, Bennet wrote to him, “we will not know if a write-in won until after the meeting of the Board tomorrow at 10a [Thursday, November 4]. They will review all write-in names. Probably not all for one person.”

Credle again asked why the Sun Journal would report the wrong information and Bennett, along with members of the Elections Board, said that he would have to take it up with the Sun Journal. She asked Credle why he would believe the Sun Journal over the Board of Elections. Credle replied, “If you don’t know, you don’t know.”

It’s important to understand the work that the write-in candidates had put in during this election, and what they had achieved, Bennet said.

The second of the top two vote getters in the Bayboro Commissioner election got roughly 27% of the vote with 44 votes. The top write-in candidate received approximately 21% of the vote with 34 votes (a provisional ballot vetted at the canvass gave each write-in candidate another vote).

The final, official count from the NC Board of Elections.

Bennet said that the write-in numbers were impressive – the top write-in candidate Vanessa Cole was only 11 votes away from a win. Bennett said she did not want the write-in candidates to get discouraged by the confusion, and in fact hoped they continued to be part of the elections process.

Related Links
Election Results 2021

Posted Tuesday November 16, 2021 by Allison DeWeese

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