WINTERVILLE, N.C. – Mr. Ricky Hines won a seat on the Winterville Town Council in November’s election. However, at the urging of the staff of the N.C. State Board of Elections staff, the Pitt County Board of Elections uncertified the election results and ordered that incumbent John Hill retain his seat despite losing the election to Mr. Hines. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed a petition in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of Hines on December 20, requesting that the court honor the election certification and award Hines his seat on the town council.
“This election was certified and state law does not allow a local board of elections to revoke that certification once it has been granted,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the attorney representing Ricky Hines.
Hines’ margin of victory was one vote. His election was made official when the Pitt County Board of Elections issued him a certificate of election on November 27.
The weekend after the canvass, it was discovered that a street that was eventually to be annexed into the town of Winterville, but was not yet within the town limits, had been improperly geocoded and ten voters on that street had been given ballots to vote in the municipal election even though their residences were not yet part of the town.
Mr. Hill requested a recount which occurred on November 21, 2017, with the same result: Richard Hines defeating incumbent John Hill by one vote.
Multiple news outlets covered the recount and the geocoding error. Articles appeared in the Greenville Daily Reflector, WNCT, and WITN. Mr. Hill, or any Winterville resident, could have filed an election protest on or before November 22, 2017. No protest was filed.
With no protest pending, the Chair of the Pitt County Board of Elections, Patrick Nelson, issued a certificate of election to Mr. Hines on November 27, 2017.
“The geocoding error was well known, it was reported widely in the press, and every Winterville resident had the opportunity to file a protest. Overturning the election and circumventing the process now is wrong,” stated Allison Riggs.
On the morning of December 6, 2017, nine days after the County Board issued the certificate of election to Mr. Hines, staff at the NC State Board of Elections called the director of the Pitt County Board of Elections and informed him that because the geocoding error could have affected the outcome of the election, the county board had wrongly certified the election results. They instructed the County Board to convene in an emergency meeting, request a new election, and revoke the certification of election issued to Hines.
“I thought we were done once the election was certified. Important decisions are being made on town council right now. What’s happening now is undermining the ability of voters in Winterville to have their certified representative govern. That is unacceptable and undemocratic,” concluded Ricky Hines.
The petition filed in Wake County Superior Court can be found at http://bit.ly/WintervillePetition