ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) — Thursday afternoon a series of events led the North Carolina State Elections Board to order a new election entirely for three races that involve Bladen County.
They first and foremost unanimously voted to order a new 9th Congressional District race. Campaign managers for republican Mark Harris tell our Charlotte affiliates the former pastor is undecided on another run for office. Democrat Dan McCready announced Friday that he would seek election again to the office.
The state board also quickly continued under the blanket comment from chairman Bob Cordle that the election was “tainted” to order new elections in two county-wide elections. Those elections being the 3rd district county commission seat and two positions on the district supervisor board for the soil and water conservation district in the county.
Friday, WWAY reached out to incumbent democrat commissioner Russell Priest about a new election. He told us he was shocked by the board’s decision given that he, nor anyone who ran in that district was summoned to testify in relation to that county race. We requested to talk with Mr. Priest on camera about the issue, but he did not return our calls when we attempted to meet him.
Mr. Priest has served on the county commission for 12 years off and on in ranking positions as chair of the board. His challenger, republican Wayne Edge, also served several terms on the board of commissioners. Edge lost to Priest last November by less than 250 votes.
We attempted to reach Mr. Edge several times, but he would not respond to our requests for an interview. He later sent us a message saying, “At this time I have not made a decision. When I find out more details on the new election I will make that decision.”
We wanted to hear from Mr. Edge because commissioner Priest said his opponent reportedly wrote a letter saying he would not seek another election. The county board of commissioners in December in fact issued a resolution to the state board of elections to go ahead and certify the Congressional race and other local races.
The decision by the board of elections still does not sit well with other board members, including past chairman and now member-at-large republican Ray Britt.
“I hate it for the county. I hate it for them number one too,” Britt said. “But it’s an expense to the county now. But elections have to be done.”
Britt went on to say he did not approve of how the state board conducted the evidentiary hearing this past week, saying there was little time given for Mark Harris and his attorney’s to bring witnesses forward for their defense. He agreed with the case commissioner Priest made that the board did little to address any potential “taint” of the local elections.
State Elections Board spokesman Pat Gannon says Harris’s attorneys were able to and did cross examine witnesses during the hearing. Gannon went on to tell us the reason defense witnesses for Mr. Harris were not called was because Harris stated that he agreed that a new election should happen, therefore, rescinding his and his attorneys push for the state board to certify him.
However, now that the vote has come down, there still is a clean up that has to take place in regards to seating a new board of elections in Bladen County. The local elections board still is without a vice-chair following the resignation of Jens Lutz.
Commissioner Ray Britt, who served years on the local board of elections prior to joining the commission, says no local election can begin without a complete local board of elections.
A spokesman for the state board of elections responded to WWAY in regards to this saying that,”The State Board will appoint new members to the county Board of Elections in the near future, but a specific date hasn’t been set.”
Patrick Gannon with the NCSBE went on to say, “State Board members agreed at the evidentiary hearing that the agency should look closely at the operations and oversight of the Bladen County Board of Elections, given the recent developments. State Board staff will ensure that occurs.”