by Justin Moore
“You can’t beat somebody with nobody”. On Election Day 2012, President Obama was re-elected, and North Carolina elected a Republican Governor for the first time in two decades. But there were thousands of other races further down the ballot, ones that are barely noticed by the public. In one of the most competitive counties in a swing state, on the last race on the ballot, a very odd thing happened. There was an election for an office that no one ran for. This election, for Watauga County Soil and Water Supervisor, had only write-in candidates since no one officially filed to run. Of the 27,764 ballots cast in Watauga County, only 1,839 voted in the race, all write in votes. The election was won by Chris Stevens, a college student who registered to vote in September in Watauga County. The ineligible candidate discussed by this post, Alan Teitleman, finished fifth.
Alan Teitleman was a candidate in the 2010 election for two (different) seats on the same board, but came in third. When Alan found out that this year’s seat had no candidate, he jokingly threw his hat in the ring on his Facebook page and asked his friends in Watauga to write him in. The problem is that Alan had already moved to Forsyth County to teach classes at Wake Forest University. Under Article VI, Section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution, he must live in Watauga County to be eligible to win the election. This would seem to be a simple matter of ineligibility, but it is actually far from simple under North Carolina’s 2006 election challenge law.
North Carolina law allows any registered voter in the jurisdiction to challenge the eligibility of a candidate by affidavit. But a candidate is specifically defined as a person who has “filed a notice of candidacy” for the office in question. While write-in candidates for partisan offices must file to run in North Carolina, write-in candidates for non-partisan offices like Soil and Water Supervisor are specifically exempted from this requirement. Since no notice of candidacy was filed in this race, a write-in candidate for a non-partisan election likely does not meet the definition of “candidate” under the statute. Even if the write-in candidate is considered a “candidate”, the initial challenge period ended in July ten days after filing closed. This means that any challenge, if even allowed, must occur as an election protest.
An election protest in North Carolina are filed by registered voters or candidate. Protests are governed by very strict procedural rules. It must be signed by the voter, filed with the board of elections within two business days of the canvass, and it must follow a very specific form. The form requires listing name and vote totals of every candidate in the race, which may reach into the hundreds if people wrote in random names on the ballot. This complicated process is further complicated by the fact that, if the county uses electronic voting machines, the necessary manual counting of the write-in votes may not occur until the canvass itself. This gives a very limited window to any person to find out about and contest the ineligibility of any write-in candidate. When a challenger navigates this maze and files an election protest, a hearing has to be held by the county board of elections.