Goldsboro District 5 recount ended with drama, but no change
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 29, 2012 1:50 AM
For two days in a row, Bob Jackson logged long hours at the Wayne County Board of Elections office.
Monday, the Wayne County Republican Party chairman was in the boardroom all morning observing the hand-eye recount of votes for the Goldsboro City Council District 5 seat.
A day later, Jackson was back in the boardroom, once more looking over ballots from District 5, but this time it was for a recount he requested in his capacity as proxy for Republican board member Hal Keck, who was unable to attend the election's canvas.
Still, even as Jackson discounted the possibility of a conflict of interest, saying he was simply wearing two different hats: as chairman of the GOP Monday and as an objective member of the Board of Elections on Tuesday, one of the most bizarre elections in Goldsboro's history became a bit more strange even in the hours leading up to the canvass.
In March, Mayor Pro Tempore Chuck Allen was the only candidate to file to run for his District 5 seat -- something that has happened before since he first gained the seat in 1999. And Allen appeared to be well on his way to earning his fourth term until about a month before the July 17 election when a write-in candidate emerged.
That's roughly when postcards and handbills began to appear telling District 5 voters to write in Jerome Tew's name on their ballots in an effort to unseat the incumbent.
The emergence of a write-in candidate was not unusual for a local political race, especially since write-in candidates typically make up the majority of smaller governing boards in nearby towns such as Eureka, but this campaign was different from others launched in Goldsboro in the past as the postcards were printed and paid for by the Wayne County Republican Party.
Tew said it was his idea to run and that he had approached the GOP about helping him, though he said he didn't necessarily mean through bankrolling his campaign.
Tew insisted he had contributed plenty of money to the Republican Party in the past, so he felt he was still funding his campaign on his own to an extent.
But Jackson was noticeably more gung-ho about the concept, which he said was a new approach for his party.
Jackson said he had no reservations about endorsing a candidate in the non-partisan race, and suggested the party would be doing even more of it in the future.
While Tew said he understood why small municipal races are typically non-partisan -- so that public officials serve the people, not a party, he said -- Jackson said he wished all of the races were partisan so that the public could better understand why elected officials vote the way they do.
The Republican endorsement and subsequent backing of Tew with funds seemed to work, as Allen spent most of election day throwing together a last-minute campaign and most of election night watching as returns showed more votes for write-ins than for him. But in the end Allen appeared to win by 13 votes.
It was a thin margin for an unopposed incumbent and it shrunk even further once it was revealed during a hand-eye recount that a handful of voters had written Jerome Tew's name down but had forgotten to fill in the bubble indicating they were casting a write-in vote.
It also turned out that several of the write-in votes cast were for candidates in other districts or, in at least one case, for a candidate who was dead.
By the end of the recount Monday, with Jackson watching, the totals showed the margin was two votes.
Later that day, the Board of Elections awarded Allen another vote that was cast in a different precinct and counted among the provisional votes.
It appeared the final tally would be Allen by three, but the margin would change again Tuesday.
Although Interim Board of Elections Director Beverly York said that while two members of the three-person board constitutes a quorum, she said it's the preference of Board Chairman Joe Lofton that a member of each party be involved with the canvas, which in Tuesday's case also included five partisan races in Council of State primaries.
With Keck, the Board's Republican member, out of town, Jackson was pegged as his replacement.
As the numbers were discussed, Jackson asked if the Board could look over the "blue sheets" -- the papers the Board of Elections counters had used to tally votes during their hand-eye recount the day before.
Mrs. York obliged and Jackson eyed the sheets, quickly picking up on discrepancies with two of the counts.
In Precinct 22, he noted the two counting teams had found different totals for Tew. One team showed Tew receiving one vote, while the other showed him receiving none. Both teams found Allen had received three votes at the Faith Alliance Church polling place on Cashwell Drive.
Another instance, this time in Precinct 29, showed three numbers in a column that added up to 74 votes for Tew, although that total and the other three totals reached by the two teams were all 49.
"We'll assume that's correct," Jackson said, making no secret of his doubt about the validity of the totals. "It's probably right."
He was questioned numerous times about performing a recount of the precincts by Lofton and fellow Board of Elections Member Chris Gurley before finally agreeing to it.
Both Lofton and Gurley insisted they wanted their colleague to be wholly convinced that the totals were accurate.
The ballots from Precinct 22 were brought out, along with one of the same tables used by the counters just a day before, as Jackson read the votes, with Lofton watching and Gurley tallying.
The trio found the missing vote for Tew during the process, bringing his total to 183 -- still two shy of Allen's total.
Concerning Precinct 29, however, Mrs. York and other elections workers contacted the team members who had listed the three numbers.
Their explanation showed it wasn't that 24 votes had been left out of the other three tallies, but that a counting error had caused them to list one total incorrectly. They wrote the correct number beneath, but didn't mark the error for auditing purposes and instead added the correct numbers up to reach the 49 total.
Jackson wasn't convinced, though.
"How do you verify without counting?" Jackson asked his fellow Board members.
A Board of Elections employee asked if Jackson wanted to do a full recount of each precinct where District 5 votes were cast, something Lofton and Gurley said they would have no problem doing if it would ease Jackson's concerns.
"I'm fine with redoing everything," Gurley said as he stood.
Jackson, who was still in his seat at the counting table, leaned back in his chair and made the decision.
"I tell you what. Well, you guys have offered it three or four times apiece, so if you're leaving it up to me, let's do it," he said.
Mrs. York was not in the boardroom at that time, but another elections employee promptly left the room to begin preparing for a full recount of the other five precincts where District 5 votes were cast.
When the two returned, the employee informed Mrs. York that the Board had decided to perform a full recount.
Mrs. York said later that she felt that simply revisiting the one other precinct that was thought to have discrepancies would appease the Board.
She was right.
She said once the Board recounted the ballots for Precinct 29 -- the polling station at the Goldsboro branch of the Wayne County Public Library -- revealing no change in totals, it decided not to pursue a full recount.
Jackson deflected concerns about requesting a recount in a race he appeared to have a vested interest in, insisting that he was acting only as a member of the Board of Elections and that he wanted to see how the process worked.
He said not being able to ask questions while he watched each vote being hand-counted Monday left him wanting to understand more about the recount, so he asked to see the tally sheets.
Asked why he didn't want to see tally sheets for other races, Jackson's answer was simple.
"We weren't involved in the other races," he said.
When asked who he meant by "we," Jackson said he was referring to the GOP.
"The party wasn't," he said.
He then insisted the closeness of the race was the true reason he requested to see the tally sheets. He also said that since the District 5 race was the only one that had been recounted, he felt it was the only race that deserved another look.
There also was a bit of confusion over what type of recount he had requested, as he claimed he had asked only for recounts in the two precincts where there were discrepancies.
Asked about when he requested a full recount of all District 5 precincts, he said he had not, despite a recording of the minutes revealed he had.
He even made a joke following his suggestion to issue a full recount, which would have lengthened the board members' stay at the office.
"I don't want no punctured tires," he said, laughing off his request which had the potential to add hours to an already lengthy canvas.
In later discussions during the meeting, he explained his rationale for wanting to make sure the count was right.
"I want to be able to say to my crowd 'Look. That's right. There is no question.'"
More than 20 minutes later, he suggested only performing a hand-eye recount for Precinct 29 may suffice.
"Why don't we just do the one? It probably won't take long," he said.
Mrs. York then prepped the ballots for that recount.
Gurley said later that he thought Jackson was only asking for a recount of Precinct 29 when he said he was OK with recounting everything, but Lofton said Thursday he remembers how close the Board was to recounting every District 5 ballot.
Lofton said Jackson's proposal was only a suggestion.
"It was just him and his opinion, but at the end, the decision was made."
Asked why he suggested the full recount and then denied it, Jackson insisted the conversation was only about a single precinct.