RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina Board of Elections voted Thursday to dismiss Jerry Alan Branson’s attempts to throw out the Guilford County school bond referendum voters approved in May.
In a pair of 3-2 votes, the state BOE first declined to remand the matter to the Guilford County Board of Elections, which had rejected Branson’s complaint earlier this month, and then dismissed the matter entirely because members felt that there was insufficient evidence that would change the outcome of the election, which is the remedy Branson had sought.
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Former Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson (NEWS & RECORD)
In discussions of the motions, the two members of the board who voted to hold more hearings on the matter agreed that there was likely insufficient information to suggest that the margin of the election would be affected.
Branson had protested because of emails, text messages and direct mails he said were distributed by the county and the school board in violation of election law and that they had tainted the election.
The $1.7 billion bond issue passed by more than 16,000 votes, but an attached referendum to approve a sales-tax increase failed, a point included in the argument by attorneys for the county and the schools. They also cited similar votes on bonds and taxes in 2020.
They also argued that the complaint was a campaign finance issue and not subject to election review. All agreed that Branson could go to court to seek remedy. It is unclear whether he would take that step.
Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said in an email that the vote will have formal certification.
Basically we will issue the certification 10 days after the State Board issues and serves its decision,” Collidcutt said, “Unless there is a stay issued by Superior Court within that timeframe.”
Guilford County BOE’s vote
The Guilford County Board of Elections had found no probable cause to hold a hearing on this matter, in a 3-2 vote, which led Branson to appeal to the state.
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Branson, who is the Republican nominee for the at-large seat on the Board of Commissioners, in April had sent a letter to county and state elections officials to suggest that the county had broken state election law by appearing to endorse the bond and raised concerns about “the legitimacy of the referenda and enforceability of bonds that might later be issued.”
The bond earned nearly 60% of the vote, but Branson’s attorney, Phillip Thomas, argued during both hearings that the margin – the actual final count was 45,639-29,577 – and close enough that the board should order a new election.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners in December had voted, 7-2, to place on the ballot a $1.7 billion bond to cover the cost of rebuilding, replacing and repairing a laundry list of crumbling school facilities. The county also had a referendum to add a quarter of a cent to the sales tax to pay for immediate school construction, but that tax failed on May 17.
Branson’s original letter Guilford BOE Chair Jim Kimel and members of the board had said the county was “expending taxpayer funds and other government resources to promote a viewpoint favoring the passage of both referenda.”
His letter said that:
- The county was violating state election law by presenting “unbalanced” information that failed to disclose public costs for interest on the bonds and to explain that a reduction in property tax to offset the quarter-cent sales tax should have explained that tax values likely would rise even as the rate declined.
- That the county had spent taxpayers’ dollars on a direct mailing that appeared to promote the passage of the bond, which, he argued, would violate state law against government bodies spending money to promote a political agenda.
- That Guilford County Schools had rallied school principals and teachers in an attempt to generate their support for the bonds even if they might not personally support the referendum.
Branson said at the time that he was concerned about who is paying for the promotion of the bond referendum and how many of the taxpayers’ dollars might be going into the effort.
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