ELIZABETHTOWN — A protest filed by failed county commissioner candidate Kenneth Register Jr. was dismissed on Tuesday by the three-member Bladen County Board of Elections citing a lack of probable cause.
Register was a candidate for the District 3 seat being vacated by Wayne Edge, but the Democrat was defeated in the No. 8 general election by Republican Ashley Trivette.
The protest was filed by Register, along with the Bladen Improvement Association PAC, on Nov. 22 and alleges voter fraud existed with absentee mail-in ballots as well as problems with a memory stick that was changed out on election night.
In the matter of the absentee mail-in ballots, Board Chairman Bobby Ludlum said the issue is now in the N.C. Board of Elections’ hands and is out of the local board’s jurisdiction.
Tuesday’s emergency meeting of the local Board of Elections served as a preliminary hearing to determine whether the protest filed by Register and the PAC were valid and should move forward to a full hearing.
“The board, once it hears the evidence from Mr. Register, can either dismiss the protest or schedule a full hearing,” said County Attorney Leslie Johnson. “It is my opinion that the petition does meet the burden of probable cause and the preliminary hearing should continue.
“Now, that said, it is not my decision whether it should go to a full hearing,” he added. “That decision is up to the board. I’m just the attorney here.”
Register was invited to come before the board and give his statement. He first wanted to emphasize that the complaint may state the changing of the memory stick “allegedly” happened, but that, in fact, he was there and witnessed it being changed.
He then stated that he was requesting a recount of ballots and that the absentee mail-in votes not be used. But his request was quickly short-circuited.
“The state has accepted them and told us — not advised us, but told us not to discuss them,” Ludlum said.
“The state doesn’t even know this meeting is happening,” Register countered.
“The state isn’t required to know,” Ludlum said. “We will notify them of the results from this meeting afterward.”
Since a discussion about the absentee mail-in ballots was off the table, Register soon folded.
“Then I will handle this at the state level,” he said. “Because the absentee ballots are at the center of my case.”
During the ensuing discussion, BOE Secretary Al Daniels said he “wanted to emphasize there two complaints at the state level concerning the absentee mail-in ballots.” Those two are the one filed shortly after the election by McRae Dowless, who won the Bladen County Soil & Water supervisor position, and the one filed Nov. 22 by Register and the Bladen Improvement PAC.
“That’s correct,” Ludlum said after the meeting. “The Register protest is joined by the Bladen PAC.”
Daniels, a Democrat, made a motion that the protest move forward to a full hearing, but dies for lack of a second.
Board member Brian Hehl, a Republican, then made a motion to dismiss the protest and it was seconded by Ludlum, who is also a Republican. The vote followed suit, passing by a 2-1 party line margin.
Johnson earlier stated that, should the protest be dismissed, Register had the options available to amend the protest and refile it or take it to the state BOE. Register said after the meeting that he would be filing the protest with the state.
On another matter, the question of when the election canvas will be held was brought up and Ludlum said there won’t be a canvas date set until the county is cleared to do so by the state.
“We might be the very last ones (to canvas), due to the state’s investigations,” said Bladen BOE Director Cynthia Shaw.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.