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Government Electioneering Taints Buncombe Bond Election

Nov 8, 2022 (Asheville, NC) We’re receiving multiple reports of Buncombe County election officials at early voting locations, who were inside the voting enclosure, openly “pushing” a document that promoted bond issues worth $70 million, in direct violation of NCGS §163-166.4(a), which says, “No person or group of persons shall . . . distribute campaign literature, place political advertising, solicit votes, or otherwise engage in electionrelated activity in the voting place. . . .”

This practice is known as “electioneering” and it is prohibited within a 50-foot buffer zone of the voting enclosures and inside the voting place.

Several of our trained poll observers spotted the illegal fliers and one of our Buncombe County team leaders contacted their Election Director, Corinne Duncan.

Today, Director Duncan told me, she ordered the fliers removed as soon as she learned of them, but the damage is still to be determined.

How many of Buncombe’s 12 early voting sites waged the illegal campaign?

How many days of early voting were they displayed and/or pushed?

Which CBE employee provided the fliers to the Site Captains, responsible for setting up the early voting sites?

Exactly how many sites were promoting the bond issues?

How could such a widespread propaganda campaign be conducted without at least somebody approving it?

So, who at the CBE level knew about this?

What was the legal reasoning behind allowing this activity?

How influential were the fliers?

Apparently, the fliers were taped to each of the voter check-in stations and at the help desk, so they had the air of being official election documents, which they were not.

We also know that employees working at the Weaverville Community Center and Enca-Candler Branch Library, were offering the document to voters inside the voting enclosure, while asking questions such as, “Are you aware of the bond issue?” and “Would you like some information on the bond issue?”

One observer worked three shifts at the Enca-Candler location, under two different Site Captains on Oct 26 and 30. Finally, on Nov 4, she noted, “there was less pushing of the referendum. It was only offered at the door.” She added, “While copies were present at the ballot stations [November 4], it was not pushed by ballot workers.”

On her prior two shifts, she estimated “around 80 percent” of voters offered the propaganda would actually accept it from the officials and read it.

A trained poll observer, at the Weaverville location, said the fliers were “posted at eye level at each of three registration desk stations, the help desk, and where sample ballots are available.”

We’re still gathering affidavits on the extent of the damage, but 15 days at two sites is already enough to have tainted the two bond issue referenda.

While numerous election employees actively electioneered at the two early voting sites, apparently none of them cared about the illegality of the process.

See for yourself

To be clear, these were not just a recitation of the ballot language, which might possibly have been legal.

“I used to be in advertising,” said one of the poll observers named Patti, “and these documents were selling the bond issues to each voter who arrived at the location.”

There was no  balanced discussion of the pros and cons of the two bond issues, but only the sort of controlled information promoting the bond proponent would ever mention.

On the Open Space” side, the flier claimed the “$30 million bond would cost typical households a maximum of $14 a year for 20 years” and support contribute to Buncombe County’s goal of conserving 20% of the County’s land by 2030.”

 

Click image to see entire Open Space Bond sales flier.

Translated, that means reduced the property rights, so a debate is worthwhile. Instead of raising money for advertisements, the pro-bond side had the kind of help that bond opponents could only dream of affording.

On the Housing Bond side, the flier helpfully assured voters, “If approved by voters this November, a $40 million bond would cost typical households a maximum of $18 a year for 20 years.”

Click image to see entire Housing Bond sales flier.

Given the expanse of Buncombe County’s homeless population, more government housing may be worth debating, but others support expanded mental health treatment for homeless people.

One study found nine reasons homeless people refuse any sort of sheltering and all of them come down either to perceptions of the shelter, pet policies, refusal to submit to counseling or drug testing, or a preference for life in the open spaces.

Rather than advocate one side or the other, my point is that it’s a debate worth having and the Buncombe County Board of Elections (CBE) gave an unfair–and illegal–advantage to only one side of both bond issues on the ballot.

In an earlier time, such fliers would have been included in a newspaper insert, funded by the bonds’ advocates. Instead, the bond issues’ advocates saved a ton of campaign expenses by using the power of poll workers to target only the voters just prior to their casting a ballot.

And in case the voters wanted more information before deciding, the fliers even included a QR code which opens to a “Buncombe County Community Investment” website.

How to Fix This

The proper response for opponents of the bond issues is to file a timely protest of the election.

According to NCGS §163-182.9(b)(4)c, “if the protest concerns an irregularity other than vote counting or result tabulation, the protest shall be filed no later than 5:00 P.M. on the second business day after the county board has completed its canvass and declared the results.”

Once the protest is filed, the law directs certain CBE procedures, an appellate process , and the role of the State Board of Elections, which states in NCGS §163-182.12, that the SBE “may take any other action necessary
to assure that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election.”

As the infamous “ColCor” scandal taught us decades ago, it’s not outside the realm for the State Board of Elections to order a special election, solely for this issue.

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