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Lawsuit claims North Carolina sheriff sworn in despite law

January 7, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A second North Carolina election that employed political consultants involved in the country’s last unresolved congressional race is being challenged, and the Democrat who was forced out as sheriff after an apparent narrow loss is demanding his job back.

A lawsuit filed by the sheriff for the past four years, Democrat Lewis Hatcher, contends Columbus County officials violated a state law by swearing in Republican S. Jody Greene last month before election disputes were resolved. Greene declined to comment Monday through a spokeswoman.

Greene was sworn in as sheriff days after a recount showed him winning by fewer than 40 votes out of nearly 19,000 cast and the local elections board dismissed four protests. But opponents still had time to appeal their failed protests under state law, and the state elections board refused to authorize Greene’s victory.

The state elections board contends Greene should not have been sworn in because county elections officials didn’t certify results while the protests were being appealed. Hatcher and other opponents contend Greene wasn’t a resident of Columbus County but of neighboring communities either in North or South Carolina.

“Greene’s refusal to step aside places Columbus County in legal jeopardy in that all arrests and searches are unlawful and illegal,” increasing the risk the county and its citizens will be sued, Hatcher attorney Oscar Blanks III wrote in the lawsuit filed Friday. Deputies are operating without the authority that flows from the state and federal constitutions, “creating chaos in the rule of law.”

North Carolina’s attorney general last month allowed Hatcher to sue county officials on the state’s behalf to enforce his right to stay in office until the protests are resolved and the election results certified.

Campaign finance records filed in Columbus County show that Greene paid political strategy firm Red Dome Group $2,500 for campaign consulting in August. The Cornelius-based firm employed political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless to turn out votes by absentee ballot in neighboring Bladen and Robeson counties for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris.

Harris narrowly led Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial vote counts, but the elections board refused to certify him as the winner amid an unusually large number of unused absentee ballots and a large advantage in absentees favoring the Republican in two of the 9th congressional district’s rural counties.

Witnesses signed sworn affidavits alleging that Dowless and people he directed collected incomplete and unsealed ballots from Bladen County voters. It’s illegal for anyone other than a close relative or guardian to take a person’s ballot. Dowless has denied wrongdoing.

In the Columbus County sheriff’s race, Hatcher got 243 of the 336 mail-in absentee votes case.

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

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