It seems the electoral hijinks are never ending this year. In addition to the ongoing ballot fraud saga in Bladen County, we have someone serving as sheriff in neighboring Columbus County even though he has not been officially elected.
Republican Jody Greene came out ahead of incumbent Democrat Lewis Hatcher 9,403-9,369 after a recount of ballots from last November’s election. Greene was then sworn in on December 3. There is only one problem: the Columbus County Board of Elections has not yet certified that Greene has officially won the election.
Several Columbus County citizens complained to the county board of elections that Greene was not a resident of the county, as required by law. The local board dismissed their complaints, but those citizens have a pending appeal to the State Board of Elections. North Carolina law is clear on the procedures in such cases (§ 163A-1184.(a).(1):
The certificate shall be issued five days after the protest is dismissed or denied by the county board of elections, unless that decision has been appealed to the State Board.
North Carolina law further states that “[a]ll officers shall continue in their respective offices until their successors are elected or appointed, and duly qualified” (§ 128-7).
The state board has not yet ruled on the complaints. With Greene’s victory not certified, he has not officially been elected sheriff. So why was he sworn in? Columbus County election officials have no idea:
“I cannot answer that question. We (the county elections office) have never been involved in the swearing in and all of that.”
However, other officials have been sworn in before their elections were officially certified (see link immediately above), so it was likely not an act of deliberate malfeasance that led to Greene’s swearing-in. Rather than a coup, it was a case of bad consequences from not following procedure.
The ideal solution would be for Greene to step down and former sheriff Hatcher to resume his duties until the election results are officially certified. However, Greene was officially sworn in and has stated that he would not resign. To resolve this impasse, the State Board of Elections should move with all deliberate speed to resolve the complaints against Greene’s election, either invalidating the election or clearing the way for its certification. In addition, local officials need to follow proper procedures so that similar incidents like this one don’t happen in the future.
This incident is another example of how much work we have ahead of us to improve election integrity in North Carolina.