Politics & Government

Citing ballot irregularities, conservative group pushes to not seat Democrat Hunt

Citing what it called absentee ballot irregularities, a conservative group Tuesday asked North Carolina House officials not to seat a Mecklenburg County Democrat when the new General Assembly convenes Wednesday.

At a news conference, the N.C. Values Coalition urged the House not to seat Democrat Rachel Hunt. She defeated incumbent Republican Bill Brawley by 68 votes in House District 103. It was one of the state’s closest legislative races.

In a letter to Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald said, “(W)e are asking you not to seat Representative-Elect Rachel Hunt until the House fully investigates the voter irregularities we have uncovered.”

The Values Coalition argues that more than 300 absentee by mail ballots were cast that had discrepancies between the date the voter signed the ballot envelope and one or both of the witnesses or notary public signed. It said that indicates the ballots were not signed in front of witnesses as required by law.

In a memo last spring, the State Board of Elections told county boards that dates didn’t necessarily have to match. Board spokesman Patrick Gannon said state law doesn’t require the dates to match. He said the witness dates were added simply to help investigators and elections officials identify possible irregularities.

But Fitzgerald accused the state board of “malfeasance” in giving those instructions to county boards.

Gannon defended the board.

“Our agency welcomes all credible evidence of alleged misconduct,” he said in a statement. “Today’s characterizations of this agency’s efforts miss the mark.”

In a separate statement to reporters, he said, “While date discrepancies may suggest a good starting point for an investigation, they are not in and of themselves reasons for voters to have their votes thrown out. It is possible that a witness may write the wrong date or sign on a date after they actually witnessed the marking of the ballot.”

Neither Hunt nor Brawley could be reached.

N.C. Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin called the Coalition effort “a desperate, last minute attempt to deny a seat to a lawfully-elected representative.”

“The Mecklenburg and the State Board of Elections have both certified Rachel Hunt as (the district’s) representative,” he said, “and she will officially assume that seat tomorrow.”

Absentee ballots are at the center of an investigation into irregularities in the 9th Congressional District counties of Bladen and Robeson. Against that backdrop, the Coalition said it began to look for absentee irregularities in other counties in the district that stretches from Charlotte to Bladen County. The Institute for Faith & Family, described as a sister organization, conducted the research.

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.