Forsyth BOE agrees to hear request for re-do in South Ward race

John Larson (right) reviews absentee ballot totals after a recent board meeting.

John Larson, a Democratic candidate for the South Ward seat on Winston-Salem City Council, is asking the state Board of Elections to order a new election for his race, citing irregularities that potentially affected the outcome of the contest.

The three-member Forsyth County Board of Elections voted unanimously this morning on a finding that Larson’s protest warrants a full hearing, while forwarding a letter to the state Board of Elections asking them to act as a final arbiter in the matter. The local board has scheduled a full hearing on Larson’s protest for April 8 at 9 a.m. Should the local board rule against Larson, the candidate would have the right to appeal the decision to the state.

Forsyth County Elections Director Tim Tsujii confirmed after the board certified the election on March 24 that 18 voters voters at the Shepherd’s Center polling place were prevented from voting in the South Ward primary Democratic primary because poll workers gave them the wrong ballot style. Larson’s opponent, Carolyn Highsmith, prevailed over Larson in the Democratic primary by only six votes. Larson carried the Shepherd’s Center precinct by 59.1 percent. In a letter to the state Board of Elections, Larson indicated that Tsujii had made an upward revision of the number of voters blocked from participating in the race to 24.

“This is a classic case of ‘irregularities affect[ing] a sufficient number of votes to change the outcome,'” Larson wrote to the state Board, citing state election law.

Larson’s letter continues:

“I do not make these requests out of any lack of respect for the Forsyth County board. I make them for two practical reasons:

“• First, only the state board has the authority to order a new election. That is the remedy I seek. Another possible remedy, allowing voters who received the wrong ballot style to recast their votes, also may be ordered by the state board.

“• Second, the most practical time to hold a new primary is June 7, the same day that the General Assembly has scheduled party primaries for US House of Representatives and the same day the state Board has scheduled a nonpartisan primary for associate justice of the state Supreme Court. In order to hold the new election on June 7, certain deadlines must be met. Those deadlines are imminent. Absentee ballots must be available to voters by April 18, and there must be time for them to be printed. If 8 NCAC 2.0113 applies to this contest, putting the contest on the June 7 ballot would mean state Board action by April 13. The schedule allows for little time for delay.”

UPDATE: Highsmith told Triad City Beat she opposes both of the remedies proposed by Larson, while advocating that the recount go forward as previously requested by her opponent. She said she is drafting a letter to the state Board of Elections to make her position known.

Highsmith added that the number of voters at Shepherd’s Center who were improperly excluded from voting in the South Ward race now numbers 27. She said both campaigns received a list of the names from Tsujii.

“As far as I’m concerned, these voters are tainted like any jury pool, given the local media coverage to date,” Highsmith said.

UPDATE 2: The state Board of Elections has agreed to hear Larson’s protest about voters receiving and voting the wrong ballots. The state Board will hold a hearing on the matter in Raleigh on April 6.