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Absentee and provisional ballots give Marley the win

Two late-counted votes flip Hope Mills town board results: Marley in, Mitchell out

A new state law will prevent some absentee ballots — including the one that saved Marley — from being counted in future elections.


Hope Mills Town Commissioner Bryan Marley learned on Friday that he won reelection this month based on two voters’ ballots that weren’t counted until Thursday evening during a meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Elections.

These two ballots put Marley one vote ahead of fellow Commissioner Grilley Mitchell. Marley, who as of Election Day had 485 votes, now has 487 votes. Mitchell finished with 486 votes.

The updated count knocks Mitchell out of office.

A new North Carolina election law that takes effect in January would have prevented the absentee vote for Marley from being counted. If the new law were in effect today and that ballot uncounted, Mitchell and Marley would have been tied. Per state law, the tied election would then have been decided by a method of random selection, such as flipping a coin or drawing straws.

Grilley Mitchell to forgo a recount

The one-vote margin between Mitchell and Marley allows Mitchell to request a recount. He said Friday that he wouldn’t.

“My goal initially was to do ‘one-and-done,’” Mitchell said. Then he was convinced to run for reelection. Now he feels he accomplished his goal of showing fellow military veterans to run for office.

“They need to get involved in politics so that we can have a voice to help preserve the patriotism and integrity of our democracy,” he said.

Mitchell said he plans to stay active and involved in community affairs.

Marley learned he won reelection when he attended a Cumberland County Board of Elections meeting on Friday morning, where the results of the 2023 municipal elections were canvassed and certified as accurate. Except for recounts of individual races or anything else that might put the final results of a race in question, the canvass closes out the election.

“I appreciate the support of the voters in Hope Mills, and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting back to work with the new members on the board and the new mayor, and move Hope Mills forward,” Marley said.

Hope Mills voters had a ballot of 13 candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot and picked five of them, with the top-five vote-getters taking office. Marley and Mitchell are in fifth and sixth place among the 13.

Mitchell is the only incumbent Hope Mills commissioner to lose this election cycle. Candidate Elyse Craver, who came in third place, replaces him.

In a separate vote, the people of Hope Mills elected candidate Jessie Bellflowers over incumbent Mayor Jackie Warner.

If Mitchell changes his mind about a recount, he has until 5 p.m. Monday to notify the county Board of Elections.

Two tiny towns could have recounts

Recounts are possible in elections to the town boards of two small towns in eastern Cumberland County:

  • In Falcon, candidate Sue Brigman has 24 votes and Commissioner Larry Lovick has 25 votes. Lovick will keep his seat if his lead remains.
  • In Stedman, commissioner candidate Ralph A. Vogt has 30 votes, and candidate Joseph Manuel has 29 votes.

What put Bryan Marley ahead? A provisional ballot and an absentee ballot

The two ballots that saved Marley’s seat on the board were a provisionally cast ballot and a mail-in absentee ballot, the Board of Elections said.

A voter casts a provisional ballot when there is some question or potential problem with the voter’s eligibility. The Board of Elections then examines the circumstances and decides whether to count the ballot.

In Hope Mills, the provisional ballot was cast on the Nov. 7 Election Day by a voter who had gone to the wrong voting precinct, the Elections Board said. As a practical matter, all voters in Hope Mills received identical ballots for this election, so it did not matter in which precinct they voted.

The absentee ballot was postmarked Nov. 6 and received Nov. 8, the day after Election Day. The law governing this year’s election allowed absentee ballots to arrive by mail during a three-day grace period and be counted so long as they were postmarked no later than the Nov. 7 Election Day.

Future voters’ ballots won’t be counted if the mail is slow

In future elections, there will no longer be a three-day grace period for mail-in ballots in North Carolina elections.

The Republican majority in the General Assembly this year voted to cancel the grace period. As of Jan. 1, absentee ballots for most absentee voters must arrive at their local elections office before the close of the polls on Election Day.

The only exception is for overseas voters (such as military personnel and their family members) who use a federally mandated overseas voting procedure.

The overseas ballots may be counted so long as they arrive by close-of-business on the day before the Board of Elections conducts its ballot canvass.

In this year’s election, that deadline was Thursday, nine days after this year’s Election Day.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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absentee, provisional, hope mills, elections 2023, recount, Bryan Marley, Grilley Mitchell