On December 10, the Durham County Board of Elections met to hear the challenge to Ivanna Gonzalez’s voter registration. In less than an hour, the two board members present (one Democrat and one Republican), voted to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. A very simple decision to a not so simple set of circumstances.
First, it’s important to know who Ivanna Gonzalez is because it is very unlikely that an everyday citizen would have ended up defending her right to vote in Durham County surrounded by the Left’s elite. In fact, Gonzalez is a Blueprint NC staff member and that fact alone makes her a VIP in North Carolina’s liberal/progressive movement. You may remember Blueprint NC is the group that was created in 2005 by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to coordinate activities of the myriad of left-wing activist groups in North Carolina. Blueprint NC is notorious for the 2013 strategy memo that instructed its member groups to attack the newly elected governor and legislative majorities and to “eviscerate, mitigate, litigate, cogitate and agitate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern.”
So it was no wonder that she was extremely well represented at the hearing by two attorneys, both from the liberal/progressive Southern Coalition for Social Justice (Blueprint NC member), including Anita Earls, the organization’s director and founder. (The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has taken a prominent role in the fight against voter photo ID and the lawsuit to stop the most recent redistricting maps ultimately upheld by the U.S. Justice Department and the North Carolina Supreme Court.) Even the architect of all of North Carolina’s old progressive election laws, Bob Hall of Democracy NC (another Blueprint NC member), was there to show his support for Gonzalez. (Democracy NC is currently suing the State Board of Elections, accusing them of violating the National Voter Registration Act – known as “motor voter law.”)
Gonzalez had been arrested for obstructing traffic and resisting a law enforcement officer during a protest outside the Governor’s Mansion on October 29, 2015. Subsequently, two legal documents, a Magistrate’s Order and an Appearance Bond for Pretrial Release, both listed a Miami, Florida address (one as a mailing address, the other a non-mailing address) for Gonzalez. Two days later, however, Gonzalez voted early using the Durham County address of her voter registration.
Bart Goswick, the registered voter in Gonzalez’s precinct who made the challenges to her ballot and voter registration, said that he had been following the story because he had learned that Gonzalez had apparently given a Miami address to Wake County law enforcement, but she also was listed as a voter in his home precinct. When Goswick discovered that Gonzalez voted in Durham County during early voting, he decided to challenge her ballot.
According to Goswick, NCGS 163-89 is the statute that governs absentee ballot challenges, so he waited until Election Day as the law requires:
163-89. Procedures for challenging absentee ballots.
(a) Time for Challenge. – The absentee ballot of any voter may be challenged on the day of any statewide primary or general election or county bond election beginning no earlier than noon and ending no later than 5:00 P.M., or by the chief judge at the time of closing of the polls as provided in G.S. 163-232 and G.S. 163-258.26(b).
But when Goswick attempted to formally challenge Gonzalez’s vote in the precinct/polling place on Election Day, as is required by law, the chief elections judge refused to hear the challenge. The chief judge told Goswick to call Durham County Board of Elections Director Michael Perry. The following day, Goswick contacted Perry and made an appointment to meet with him on Friday. That is when Goswick submitted the challenges to Gonzalez’s ballot and to her voter registration.
According to the November 10, 2015 Durham County Board of Elections meeting minutes, Perry stated “that the challenge against her absentee ballot was submitted after the deadline for such challenges. Mr. Goswick’s claim that he was unable to successfully submit the challenge on Election Day due to mishandling of the request by precinct officials does not change the fact that the challenge was late. It was recommended that her absentee ballot be counted.”
During the Dec. 10 hearing, Goswick presented the Magistrate’s Order and Appearance Bond documents as evidence that Gonzalez had offered a Miami address as her residence barely 48 hours prior to voting in a Durham County election. Gonzalez offered evidence including copies of her rental agreement, utility bills, and North Carolina Driver License to prove that she resided at the Durham County address listed on her voter registration. Gonzalez also testified that she told the authorities (during the October 2015 arrest) at least five times that her address was in Durham.
Gonzalez, in her sworn testimony and in a signed affidavit, said that she understood that the challenge was made because of:
“an address contained in a document from the Wake County magistrate’s office. I am aware that the magistrates’ office has the wrong address listed for me. The incorrect address listed on the magistrate’s order came to be on record with the magistrate’s office because it was the mailing address I provided to the officials when I was arrested in May 2013 for engaging in civil disobedience. At that time I did not yet have a signed lease in Durham and needed a secure place for mail from the Wake County Magistrate to be sent. I provided my parent’s address in Miami, Florida so that my parents could be sure to get my mail to me in Durham.” (Quote from Gonzalez’s signed affidavit)
So you see why it was important to understand who was being challenged in this case. Not many people would end up with two lawyers from a liberal legal advocacy non-profit organization and the director of Democracy NC in their corner. But then again, not many people would have been arrested at least two times in the last two years in political protests.
Unfortunately, this case has proven that we now should worry about the Wake County justice system keeping accurate records. They did Ms. Gonzalez no favors in their shoddy record keeping. And, Durham County’s elections director, Michael Perry has been made aware from these events that his county’s precinct officials need extra training in the ballot challenging department – let’s hope he thinks it is important enough to emphasize in the 2016 training sessions.
On a positive note, a citizen did his part and asked the right questions when he thought that something just wasn’t quite right in his voting precinct. In North Carolina, when it comes to elections and voting, citizens must be the investigators. The State Board of Elections, in most cases, will not investigate instances of voter fraud (or what appears to be fraud) unless a citizen makes an official complaint or submits a challenge.