By DEUCE NIVEN
In a pair of split votes the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE) Monday found Jody Greene to be a resident of Columbus County and the duly elected sheriff, though that may not be the final word in the ongoing legal process that has followed last November’s general election.
Attorneys for Greene and former sheriff Lewis Hatcher addressed the SBOE during the hearing the stretched nearly three hours.
SBOE members voted 4-1 to reject the finding of the Columbus County Board of Elections that Greene was not a resident of the county for at least a year prior to the Nov. 6, 2018 sheriff’s election; and 3-2 upholding the county board’s decision to reject protests from voters in the sheriff’s election.
Hatcher attorney Oscar Blanks III said a final decision on an appeal has not been made, but that he and other lawyers representing the former sheriff are in “preliminary discussions that indicate that we do plan to appeal.”
A written order on Monday’s SBOE decisions will come soon, starting a ten-day window for an appeal, SBOE General Counsel Josh Lawson said.
That appeal would go to Wake County Superior Court in Raleigh, where Monday’s hearing was held.
Arguments concerning Greene’s residency were heard first, with attorney’s each given 15 minutes to address the findings of the Columbus County Board of Elections, which found in a split April 4 decision that Greene was not a resident of the county.
“The local board’s decision was not founded in the law, was not founded in the facts, and was an inappropriate decision under the law,” attorney Boyd Worley, representing Greene, told the SBOE.
Board member Jeff Carmon III said he had concerns, arguing that Greene had not demonstrated that his land in Cerro Gordo was “the place he planned to return to and live permanently.”
A vacation home in North Myrtle Beach seemed more of a permanent residence, Carmon argued, saying that Greene lived in Cerro Gordo during the work week, then “went home” to North Myrtle Beach during the weekend.”
SBOE chair Robert Cordle said Columbus County Board of Elections members followed the lead of chair Bonita Blakney, who argued that the RV camper Greene said was his home did not qualify as a residence by county ordinance, “substituting her opinion and the code of ordinance for the law.”
State law, not local ordinances, must rule the elections process, Cordle said.
Issues involving absentee ballots and election day missteps were the focus of the second half of Monday’s hearing, which dealt with protests filed by Nancy Hill and Gloria Smith and dismissed by the county board last November.
SBOE member David C. Black called a series of events involving nine absentee ballots cast by residents of Liberty Commons Nursing Home in Whiteville a “calamity of errors in that entire transaction.”
Requests for those absentee ballots were received on after the Oct. 31, 2018 deadline requesting them, issued by county board staff in error, handled by Liberty Commons staff in violation of state law, taken by a Liberty Commons staff member to a precinct instead of the county Board of Elections office on election day, and not disclosed to Elections Supervisor Carla Strickland for more than a week, SBOE evidence and testimony showed.
Despite all of that, Black said, there was “no more evidence to make me think it changed the outcome of this election.”
SBOE investigators have not concluded their inquiry into the Liberty Commons issues, investigator Joan Flemming said.
Investigators have determined that McRae Dowless of Bladen County, accused of tampering with absentee ballots in the 9th Congressional election that was thrown out earlier this year, was also involved through his employer Andy Yates and Red Dome with Greene’s election effort.
But, the SBOE investigation did not find that Dowless committed fraud on behalf of Greene, but did find some organized absentee ballot efforts also took place on behalf of some Democrats, apparently because some involved were not aware of their legal restrictions.
Greene’s wife Angie, Flemming said, discovered the Democrat absentee ballot effort while reviewing what benefit her husband’s campaign got from a $4,000 contract with Red Dome to get out more absentee votes.
“In the end, they thought Yates and Dowless may have defrauded the campaign,” Flemming said of the Greene’s.
Look for more on this story in this week’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.