- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina election officials declined Sunday to step in and resolve dozens of local voting complaints as Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign had requested, although they did take over one protest in Bladen County alleging absentee voter fraud.

The State Board of Elections met by phone as county election boards hoped this coming week to tally their final ballot results that could affect too-close-to-call races for governor and state auditor. Unofficial results from the state board show Democrat Roy Cooper leading McCrory by 6,600 votes from nearly 4.7 million cast.

The five-member board, three Republicans and two Democrats, debated but didn’t grant the request by McCrory’s campaign to take over jurisdiction of at least 50 protests covering 35 counties. Most current protests allege some votes shouldn’t be counted because the voter died before Election Day, is a convicted felon or voted in multiple locations. At least six protests allege absentee fraud.

Campaign manager Russell Peck wrote the state board late last week saying it should rule on the protests, rather than county boards of elections, to prevent uneven local rulings and “facilitate a quicker resolution of the issues raised by the protests.”

But board members decided they wanted local boards to hear evidence and make decisions. Their rulings could still be appealed to the state board, whose members are appointed by the governor.

“It would be a mistake for (us) to take up local protests,” Democratic board member Joshua Malcolm said, adding local boards “need to make fact finding decisions.”

Republican member Rhonda Amoroso, however, said the pending protests need to be settled because the public may view them and believe “we have a systemic issue here of fraudulent voter activities.” If someone who is ineligible to vote is able to cast a ballot, she added, “it puts a cloud over the integrity of the election process in our state.”

The state board did agree it would provide legal guidance to county boards considering protests and scheduled a meeting Tuesday to take suggestions about what exactly the legal advice should be.

The Bladen County protest, which the state board also agreed unanimously to take over, and related documents allege a handful of people may have signed and filled out roughly 150 absentee ballots. State board staff already has been involved in the case, elections director Kim Strach said.

Save for a protest over the counting of 94,000 early votes in Durham County - rejected unanimously by the local board last Friday - the number of ballots at issue in the other disclosed protests are less than the current margin in the governor’s race. McCrory’s team has said the protests have unveiled potentially widespread fraud that needs to be addressed before all votes are tallied.

Cooper’s campaign has pointed out the outgoing attorney general’s lead over McCrory has widened since the 5,000-vote margin on election night. The campaign considers the extensive protests a sign of the governor’s desperation.

“Gov. McCrory is doing everything he can to undermine the results of this election and the will of the people. But we won’t let him,” Cooper says in a video released Sunday.

A deadline last Friday for boards of elections in all 100 counties to complete their tabulations came and went as protests slowed down their process.

Boards also were awaiting details from the state before deciding whether provisional ballots cast by people who believed they registered to vote or updated their registration at Division of Motor Vehicles offices since last year should count. A federal judge ruled these should be counted unless DMV officials proved they declined to register. About 1,500 such votes will be counted, according to a state board list.


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