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East Spencer mayor survives Board of Elections hearing

Rowan County’s Board of Elections on Thursday dismissed allegations of election law violations by East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett.

In a hearing that involved a parade of witnesses, the board found Mallett violated elections laws in some way. The violations, however, weren’t enough to affect the race for East Spencer mayor, according to Thursday’s ruling. Rowan County Board of Elections member John Hudson made the initial motion to dismiss allegations. It was seconded by Elections Secretary Gus Andrews. It passed unanimously.

The decision becomes final when the Rowan County Board of Elections publishes its final order. If appealed within 24 hours of the order, the State Board of Elections could consider the allegations against Mallett.

Thursday’s decision effectively upholds East Spencer’s 2015 election results. Final election results show Mallett won the race with 182 votes. Candidate Rhonda Kerns finished second with 39 votes and alleged the multiple election violations by Mallett. Brint Polk finished third with 24 votes.

Kerns’ allegations included Mallett escorting voters inside of East Spencer’s polling place and election judges taking campaign materials from Mallett.

Kerns alleged Mallett escorted up to 90 voters into East Spencer’s polling location. She produced pictures and a video of Mallett allegedly escorting voters. All of the voters escorted by Mallett were elderly or disabled, Kerns alleged.

East Spencer resident Cleodis Cowan Jr. spoke during Thursday’s hearing and backed up Kerns’ allegations. Cowan, however, said he witnessed a significantly lower number of voters being escorted into East Spencer’s polling place. Cowan estimated Mallett brought about 15 people into East Spencer’s polling location.

Kerns allegations were an issue because of a required buffer zone between polling locations and candidates. State law requires a minimum of 25 feet. Candidates can enter the buffer zone when going to vote, but can’t campaign inside the area.

Hudson, Andrews and Rowan County Elections Chairman Dwight D. Collins questioned why Kerns hadn’t reported the alleged violations sooner. Kerns said she called the Rowan County Board of Elections and State Board of Elections on Nov. 4 — the day after elections, but didn’t tell precinct officials.

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, Mallett vehemently denied she violated election laws.

“There are only four times I recall going inside of the building,” she said during the hearing.

She said East Spencer’s 22.8 percent turnout rate was encouraging.

Mallet said she didn’t know any of the people pictured in the photos or video. The evidence likely showed her holding the door for a woman before going in to vote herself, Mallett said.

“That lady could have gone in front of me, and I could have been letting her in,” she said. “That was when my husband and I went in to vote.”

Mallett questioned why Kerns didn’t produce more pictures if up to 90 people were escorted to the polls.

A number of precinct judges, including East Spencer Chief Judge Andrea Kirk, spoke during the hearing and denied Mallett ever escorted any voters into the polling location.

Kerns also alleged Mallett ‘s campaign materials were brought inside of the polling location. Kirk said no materials were brought inside. Another judge said she recalled seeing a campaign flyer with Mallett’s name inside of the polling location.

When asked after the hearing about his motion, Hudson said it appeared Mallett had entered the polling location without being authorized. But that was not enough to overturn the election.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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