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Questions raised as Rowan County certifies 2016 election

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Immediately after the Rowan County Board of Elections finalized election results, a new issue popped up.

With a unanimous vote, the Rowan County Board of Elections on Monday approved four of the remaining provisional ballots and certified the 2016 general election results. After that vote, however, Board of Elections staff asked whether to pay three unauthorized poll workers.

Elections Specialist Laura Russell said the Franklin precinct’s chief judge picked three poll workers who shouldn’t have been allowed to work at the site. One poll worker was the wife of the chief judge. Another was the husband of a precinct judge. The third person isn’t registered to vote in Rowan County.

Poll workers can’t work at the same site as family members, she said. Voters registered in another county also can’t work a poll in Rowan, she said.

None of three were preapproved by Board of Elections staff. The chief judge wasn’t aware poll workers needed to be preapproved, Russell said.

The Rowan County Board of Elections agreed to seek an opinion from the state board before deciding whether to pay the poll workers for their time.

Russell said she discovered the issue when processing pay for election day.

“I got to precinct 11, the Franklin precinct, and I saw three names on the list of people that worked that we had no idea who they were,” Russell said. “Or, they were not appointed to work, but they were there on election day.”

The Franklin precinct sits just outside of Salisbury’s city limits. Voters in the area voted for Republicans by margins that mirror countywide totals.

When discussing the pay issue, board members questioned whether paying the poll workers would be equivalent to an endorsement of the chief judge’s actions.

“I’d hate for us to do something, to approve it, and then there’s something in the statutes that make it wrong,” said Board of Elections Chairman Dave Collins.

Russell didn’t express any concerns about voting results at the Franklin precinct. When asked about the unauthorized workers after Monday’s meeting, she noted that the Board of Elections had already certified the results of Rowan County’s election. She said the poll workers were classified as assistants rather than judges. As a result, the trio wouldn’t have been required to attend training, she said.

Rowan County’s certified election results show a 67.90 percent turnout and 64,651 total ballots cast. More than 40 percent of Rowan County’s voters cast ballots before election day, which is a record.

The certified results follow traditional voting patterns in Rowan County — in every partisan race Republicans received a majority of local votes. Rowan County picked Donald Trump for president, Richard Burr for U.S. Senate and Pat McCrory for governor.

The governor’s race is close statewide — several thousand votes — and McCrory’s campaign has challenged ballots in a majority of counties, which has prolonged the election. Rowan County has avoided any of the controversy. McCrory won by a large margin. His campaign hasn’t challenged any local ballots.

Instead, Rowan County’s canvass — when the Board of Elections certifies results — was delayed for a different reason. A federal judge in October ruled that votes must be counted for people who registered at the DMV but didn’t appear on elections records. The Rowan County Board of Elections hadn’t received the final results by Friday, when canvass was originally scheduled. It was delayed to Monday.

Once Rowan County received the list, only four ballots were added to the total number of votes. Two of the ballots included votes for McCrory, one included a vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper. The fourth person didn’t vote in the race.

A total of 427 provisional ballots were not counted in Rowan’s 2016 election results for any number of reasons. Some who cast provisional ballots may not have been registered to vote.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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