Write-in candidate wins one of two seats; did elections board chairman influence race by explaining how to write his name in, thereby “undermining the integrity” of the board of elections?
Alamance County’s board of elections has agreed to hold a formal hearing next week to consider a challenge to the results of Green Level’s municipal election, where a write-in candidate narrowly placed second in a competition over two available council seats.
The bipartisan board of elections voted 4-to-0 on Tuesday to schedule this hearing after its members held a preliminary hearing to ascertain whether to proceed any further with the challenge to Green Level’s elections.
After Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, the board of elections conducted an official recount of Green Level’s election results that ultimately mirrored the Election Night tally, which identified the presumed winners of Green Level’s council race as Patty Jones and Jose McBroom.
A military veteran who grew up in Green Level and moved back after his 24-year-long career in the Air Force, McBroom had waged a write-in campaign that earned him 102 votes – and a second-place finish in this year’s race for Green Level’s town council.
At issue during Tuesday’s preliminary hearing was a four-part complaint in which unsuccessful town council candidates Stephanie Long Enoch and Ida Kleiner accuse various officials of exerting improper interference in Green Level’s town council race. Of particular concern to the board’s members were several allegations against their own chairman Dorothy Yarborough, whom the two runners-up charge had showed the town’s voters how to submit a valid write-in vote for Jose McBroom during a candidate forum that preceded the election on November 2.
In light of her preeminent role in the complaint, Yarborough recused herself from both the discussion and votes during Tuesday’s preliminary hearing. The board’s four remaining members went on to single out the allegations against Yarborough as the only portion of Enoch and Kleiner’s challenge worth pursuing further. The foursome reasoned that, if true, their chairman’s alleged actions may very well have swayed the results of the race for Green Level’s town council.
For her part, the chairman did not participate in any discussion or vote on anything related to the complaint or her alleged actions; in fact, she left the meeting room altogether.
As things turned out, the race for the town’s two available council seats ended in victories for Jones and McBroom.
According to the unofficial tally posted shortly after the polls closed on November 2, Jones led the five candidates whose names appeared on the ballot with a total of 136 votes, while McBroom picked up all but one of the 103 write-in votes cast in Green Level this year.
Enoch and Kleiner wound up with 100 and 74 votes respectively – which put them well ahead of Doris S. Richmond, who won 26 votes, and Erwin Taylor, who came away with 19.
Enoch nevertheless lost the second place spot to McBroom, whose 102 write-in votes narrowly earned him one of the available seats on Green Level’s town council.
During Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, the county’s bipartisan board of elections was tasked with determining whether Enoch and Kleiner’s complaint had been properly filed and, if so, whether there was “probable cause” to suspect that any of its claims, if true, would’ve had an “outcome determinative” effect on the election.
The four board members who took part in the preliminary hearing quickly reached a consensus on the first point – that the complaint was, indeed, filed correctly.
It took them longer, however, to reach a decision on each of the four allegations that Kleiner and Enoch had lodged in the wake of the election.
The board ultimately found no probable cause to suspect an “outcome determining” impact for three of the allegations.
They saw no reason to sift through a claim that a staff member in the local elections office had acted improperly when she notified current Green Level councilman Michael Trollinger of Kleiner’s candidate registration. Nor did they see any election-determining potential to a charge that Trollinger had “verbally abused” Kleiner on the day of the election.
The board also shrugged off a complaint that children clad in campaign t-shirts were running beyond the point where electioneering was prohibited at the polling precinct where Green Level residents voted.
“That there were children playing within the buffer zone – even if it was assumed to be true, it wouldn’t reach the level of probable cause that would be outcome determinant,” Republican board member Bryan Ray summed up the prevailing view on that point.
The board’s members seemed more concerned, however, about the complaints which zeroed in directly on Yarborough.
According to Kleiner and Enoch’s complaint, the election board chairman had exhibited excessive favoritism toward McBroom when she demonstrated the proper way to cast a write-in vote during a candidate forum in Green Level before the election.
According to the text of the complaint, Yarborough “instructed” the town’s electorate on how to write Jose McBroom’s name on the ballot.
“She specifically provided the exact spelling of Jose McBroom’s name and informed the residents not to use his nickname,” the complaint goes on to assert. “The presentation proved contrary to board of elections employee protocols…[and] diminish[ed] the integrity of the board of elections.”
The complaint also cites a general statute that prohibits elections officials from endorsing particular candidates and subjects those who violate this rule to potential removal from office.
Yarborough’s colleagues didn’t mince words about the gravity of this allegation before they voted to give it further consideration at the upcoming hearing.
“These are serious allegations,” opined Dan Ingle, a Republican appointee to the local elections board. “I think that the board has the obligation to hear the allegations and hear Ms. Yarborough’s defense.”
“With somebody making these kinds of allegations,” Ray agreed, “it’s hard to say that it couldn’t be outcome determinative.”
Ray and Ingle were joined by Democratic appointees Noah Read and Homer Ashby in the 4-to-0 vote to delve further into this particular claim.
The four board members went on to schedule a full hearing on the complaint for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 16. Yarborough, who is herself a Democratic appointee to the local board of elections, had physically left the board’s meeting room before the preliminary hearing began.