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ENC Regional News
Tue June 6, 2006
Lenoir Board of Elections upholds LaRoque election challenge
By George Olsen
Kinston, NC – INTRO - Last month the Lenoir County Board of Elections upheld a challenge from the May primary by 10th District state Representative Stephen Laroque. They forwarded their findings to the state Board of Elections the first step in a possible second election. George Olsen has more.
The Republican primary election between the incumbent Laroque and his challenger Willie Ray Starling was a close one an eleven vote difference a difference that the Laroque campaign believes could have been made up if all those who wanted to vote for the candidate had been allowed to.
00:57 (RK) We had 20 affidavits from voters who had either been given the wrong ballot, denied the right to vote in the election at all in this particular election in the 10th District, or there was some other irregularity involved in their voting. Eighteen of those 20 did not cast a ballot in the 10th district house race. Two of them persisted and eventually did.
Roger W. Knight, an attorney with the Raleigh law firm Wyrick, Robbins, Yates and Ponton who represented Stephen Laroque before the Lenoir County Board of Elections, describing what allegedly occurred to some unaffiliated voters.
00:57 The gist of some of our arguments were we had the affidavits from voters who appeared and said they wanted to vote in the Republican primary and in some instances they were denied, told you can't do that. In other instances these unaffiliated voters were given what they contend was the wrong ballot because it did not have the 10th House District race on it, and as I understand it these were new machines and/or new ballot set-up in Lenoir County during this election, so that contributed to the confusion. They asked for Republican ballots, wanted to vote in the 10th District House race, went to the machine, it wasn't there, went to the next page, still wasn't there, so there was some confusion about what to do at that point.
Knight adds that an internal audit by the Lenoir Board reveals 39 ballots either cast by ineligible voters or the wrong ballot had been cast. The question becomes whether discrepancies are large enough to warrant a special election. An attorney for Willie Ray Starling says the answer is no.
01:55 If ever the case, then every close election you'd run again because there's always something that'll go wrong. Things that go wrong have to be sufficiently serious and have to directly affect people's ability to cast votes that would change the outcome.
Micheal Crowell, an attorney with the Raleigh law firm of Tharrington Smith who represented Willie Ray Starling during the May 23rd hearing in Lenoir County. Crowell says the typical election protest involves ineligible voters casting ballots or people denied the chance to vote. He says that isn't the case here.
03:42 Well, the people who submitted those affidavits, the election record showed that as unaffiliated voters they had consistently voted a Democratic or Republican ballot in previous elections, so they knew that there was a choice, and the fact the election workers may or may not have told them they have a choice doesn't create the kind of situation that deserves a new election. You have some other people who submitted affidavits where they say they requested a Republican ballot but are not sure they got it. Well, those are people who went ahead and voted and voted on a machine that twice showed them the ballot they were voted and asked them to confirm that's what they wanted to vote for, so they had an obligation to try and do something about that and correct that before they voted if they thought there was something wrong. These were not situations where people were denied an opportunity to vote.
But Roger Knight rests a lot of Representative Laroque's argument on a state statute that says unaffiliated voters shall be asked if they want to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary which he says wasn't always the case. And he thinks an argument that unaffiliated voters should have known they were eligible to vote in a party primary or should have recognized their ballot sets a dangerous precedent.
05:35 Essentially the argument from the other side shifts the burden for assuring the ballots are correct from the precinct workers and the election officials to the voter. It's a caveat emptor argument. You get your ballot, you take your chance is the argument they're making. Once you get your ballot, if its not correct, its your fault, as compared to if you get your ballot and its not correct, it's the election officials fault, and I think the statute is pretty clear that the election officials have to give you the correct ballot.
Attorneys Knight and Crowell will make their arguments again before the state Board of Elections, who would make the decision about a new election in the 10th District. The hearing is expected early this month. I'm George Olsen.