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Bad absentee ballot language sent to some 9th District voters

May 14th, 2019

— After last year’s 9th Congressional District race was tainted by absentee ballot issues, the State Board of Elections sent some bad absentee ballot instructions to an unknown number of voters in Tuesday’s do-over primary.

So far, fewer than than 10 cast ballots seem to be affected, according to the state board, but that may not be complete count.

State law allows people who need assistance voting to get help as they fill out their mail-in ballots. The law limits who can mail ballots, though, and election officials put stickers with a poor explanation of the law on an unknown number of ballot envelopes.

The stickers were supposed to certify that, “due to a disability,” the voter involved gave a helper permission to mail his or her ballot. But the phrase “due to a disability” was left out in some cases, potentially leading to confusion over the last few weeks as absentee ballots were cast in the 9th District’s Republican primary.

Final results in last year’s 9th District race were set aside after it became clear that a Bladen County operative for Republican Mark Harris sent people door-to-door collecting absentee ballots. It’s generally illegal to take somebody’s ballot, unless it’s a close relative or it’s a disabled person who has given permission to mail the ballot.

State board spokesman Patrick Gannon said there’s no evidence the incomplete language has led to any attempted fraudulent ballot activity.

The sticker language really matters only for voters who need assistance completing their ballots, Gannon said. Otherwise, that section wouldn’t be checked, he said.

“From what we understand, there have been less, fewer than 10, absentee ballots sent back that had that witness certification section checked,” Gannon said. “The wrong language was on these envelopes.”

Those ballots will count, provided there’s nothing else wrong with them, Gannon said.

Gannon said the state board is still trying to determine what happened, but it appears an earlier version of the sticker, before the disability language was added, went out “due to human error.”

WSOC in Charlotte was the first to report on the incorrect language Tuesday.

The state board has been in turmoil for some time, with a tug-of-war between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the General Assembly’s Republican majority over control of board appointments. Cooper won a series of lawsuits last year restoring his appointment powers over the board, and his appointees voted Monday to replace agency Executive Director Kim Strach.

One of the few reasons cited for the change by Board Chairman Robert Cordle was that the office needed a new focus on elections administration, as opposed to investigations. Strach came up in the office as an investigator and headed up the 9th District investigation last year.

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