13 Vote Difference Prompts Recount In Harnett County Race

Harnett County Commissioner Howard Penny Jr., right, says he plans to seek a recount in the primary election that put him 13 points behind his challenger W. Brooks Matthews, left.

When Yogi Berra said “it ain’t over till it’s over” he wasn’t referring to the Harnett County Board of Commissioners District 3 race between incumbent Howard Penny and challenger Brooks Matthews, but he might as well have been.

Penny told The Daily Record Wednesday morning, he intends to seek a recount after the total vote difference was 13­ – or less than the 1% minimum requirement by state statute.

“I’ve already texted Brooks and I told him I would ask for a recount,” Penny said. “Obviously, provisionals are out there and we don’t know how many absentees. So there’s only 13 votes difference so we’ll file for a recount.”

In response, Matthews said he understood and agreed the race was tight enough to warrant a recount.

“I certainly understand and want to make sure everything’s accurate,” Matthews said. “So we’ll wait and see how that turns out.”

He said he understood his opponent’s concern and admitted the percentage difference, which was just over a half of a percentage point (.054), was razor thin.

“Certainly it’s a very minute percentage and I support that,” he said. “Again, we’ll wait and see how it turns out.”

Penny will now have to wait until the election canvass on March 13 when the vote totals become official, according to Harnett County Board of Elections Director Claire Jones. He will be required to file a written request for the recount.
“We have to process the provisionals,” she said. “So they will have to wait until after the canvass.”

Jones said currently there are over 300 provisional ballots yet to be reviewed. So a possibility does exist the totals could change depending on how relevant any of those provisionals are to the District 3 race.

The official tally of the number of provisional ballots approved or thrown out won’t be made public until the Board of Elections has its provisional ballot meeting on March 12. At the conclusion, the number of approved provisionals will be added to the current totals, then submitted for approval by the board at the canvass the following day.

“At that provisional meeting we’ll go through the provisional ballots and any absentee ballots we’ve received that are postmarked on Election Day,” Jones said. “That way we can get all the paperwork together and ready for the canvass on Friday.”

Jones said the high number of provisional ballots could stem from a misunderstanding by voters as to how the primary election is conducted.

She said often times, the ballots are given provisional standing after it is unclear whether or not the voter cast a ballot for the proper party’s primary.

“If they vote the wrong party ballot and we can’t find any evidence the voter ever attempted to change their party, the board may disapprove them,” Jones said. “We would check the registration records to verify. There’s a chance they did change and it was missed when it got processed.”

In some cases, a voter may have changed party affiliation at the Department of Motor Vehicles, but the change didn’t come through the electronic system properly, Jones said. Or a voter may have changed party on another registration and there was something else wrong so it’s showing as incomplete.

“There’s lots of places where we have to look,” she said. “So we check all of our data bases, we check the DMV database and things like that.”

In the primary, there are no cross-party ballots allowed, unless the voter is registered as unaffiliated. Then they can choose which ballot to use.

“For a primary you have to vote the party you are registered unless you’re unaffiliated,” Jones said. “Then if you are unaffiliated, you can choose which ballot you use.”

The canvass takes place at the Board of Elections office at 11 a.m. on March 13 and Penny confirmed he will have the documents needed to file for the recount awaiting the board’s final approval of the vote totals.

“She’ll have it formally in writing a long time in advance,” Penny said. “We will follow the letter of the law. Whatever the rules call for is what I’ll ask for, nothing more, nothing less and that’s what we’ll abide by.”

-Dunn Daily Record