AP NEWS

Republican ruled winner of disputed N Carolina sheriff race

May 6, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s elections board on Monday overruled an effort to disqualify the Republican candidate in a still-unresolved election for sheriff, deciding his legal residence was the recreational vehicle he parked on farm land he owned.

The state elections board ruled 4-1 that Jody Greene lived in Columbus County well before the required year ahead of November’s election. The state board is made up of five members — three registered Democrats and two Republicans.

The residency decision and other votes dismissing complaints of election irregularities means Greene could take office over former Democratic incumbent Lewis Hatcher. Hatcher can appeal the decisions in court.

Greene, who is white, took over as sheriff in December after a recount showed him 37 votes ahead of Hatcher. State elections officials didn’t authorize the outcome because appeals were still pending.

A caretaker has been running the sheriff’s department while Greene and Hatcher, who is black, wait for a conclusion.

Greene testified at a county elections board hearing last month that he considered the property near the Columbus County town of Cerro Gordo to be his domicile since buying it in 2012. Damage to his wife’s business during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and family complications delayed home construction there, Greene said.

Opponents contend Greene’s real home was in one of the neighboring communities in North and South Carolina where he owned property. Columbus County had no records of Greene taking out any permits on his Cerro Gordo property to build a home, drill a well or install septic lines. It is registered as farm land with no residence at the county tax office.

Jeff Carmon, a Democrat who voted to uphold the residency challenge, said he was persuaded that while working as state highway patrol trooper Greene shuttled between the RV, a home in Lumberton and a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, cottage.

“He was there for work. That’s where his uniform was. But then he went home, he went home to his wife, which was at the beach,” Carmon said.

But Democrat Stella Anderson disagreed, adding the county elections board put too much weight on whether the RV was a suitable home while Greene planned to build a permanent home on the Columbus County land.

The board also rejected challenges by Hatcher supporters about a polling precinct that lacked some ballots on Election Day and the illegal handling of ballots cast by residents of a nursing home.

State elections investigators reported that Greene used the same consultants involved in the ballot fraud uncovered in neighboring Bladen County that sank last year’s congressional election of Republican Mark Harris.

Harris narrowly led in unofficial vote counts after November’s 9th Congressional District election, but a new election was ordered after investigators found a Harris political operative may have illegally collected completed mail-in ballots. The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, has since been charged with state election crimes. He was paid by political strategy firm Red Dome Group.

Dowless and Red Dome also worked for Greene’s campaign, but while the consultants were contracted to get “positive absentee ballot results,” chief state elections investigator Joan Fleming said there was no indication Dowless collected completed ballots in Columbus County. Fleming said there was evidence that an unnamed supporter of Democratic candidates collected and mailed batches of ballots. That investigation isn’t yet complete, she said.

___

Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio .