Protest Seeks New County Commission Primary Election

Complaint: Illegal Voter Guide Could Have Changed Outcome Of Race Decided By 47 Votes

SMITHFIELD – A formal protest has been filed at the Johnston County Board of Elections Office requesting a new primary election be conducted in the District 1 race for Johnston County Commissioner.

Following Tuesday Primary, only 47 votes separated two Republican candidates running for the District 1 seat, Fred Smith and Michelle Pace Davis. Smith received 9,582 votes and Davis 9,535 votes, in unofficial results.

Around 4:00pm Friday, Johnny Hill of Clayton filed a formal protest requesting a new District 1 race be held. At issue is a voter guide handed out Tuesday at polling precincts across Johnston County by an unregistered political action committee called Citizens for the Betterment of Johnston County. The guide closely resembles Johnston County GOP voter guides handed out during the November General Elections. The GOP said they had no knowledge or anything to do with Tuesday’ guide.

The guide encouraged voters to support a number of local candidates. One of those was Fred Smith who beat Davis by only 47 votes.

Hill’s complaint contends the illegal voter guide was enough to potentially change the outcome of the race.

Johnston County Board of Elections Director Leigh Anne Price said Friday the County Election Board will hold a Preliminary Hearing to review Mr. Hill’s evidence. If there is compelling evidence, a Formal Hearing will be held by the local Election Board. If the Board feels the evidence is enough to have changed the outcome, they will forward the complaint to the NC Board of Elections for a decision.

The NC BOE could order a new election upon agreement of at least four of its members based upon several conditions including if “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”

Price did not say when the local elections board will hold the informal hearing.

State Board of Elections Voter Guide Complaint
In an unrelated complaint, a voter has provided JoCoReport with an formal grievance they filed Tuesday with the NC BOE claiming the voter guide was illegal and should be investigated.

NC Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon said state law prohibits the NC BOE from commenting on any possible investigations. “Campaign finance investigations are confidential. We cannot confirm whether or not a complaint has been filed, or if the State Board is investigating.”

Provisional Ballots
Johnston County Board of Elections Director Leigh Anne Price said Friday there are more than 300 provisional ballots from Tuesday’s Primary that still haven’t been counted. The provisional ballots will be counted Thursday, March 12th at 4:00pm. The meeting is open to the public. The Primary Election Results will be certified by the County Board of Elections on Friday, March 13th at 11:00am.