Contradiction and convenience

by Brian Clarey


The Forsyth County Board of Elections held a hearing on Monday to determine the competency of Elections Director Rob Coffman’s organization after allegations in YES! Weekly ranging from improper office conduct to state election law violations.

Jobs and reputations were on the line, as well as the integrity of Forsyth’s election process, which explains some of the heated exchanges that took place in Winston-Salem.

Testimony from several of Coffman’s former BOE employees alleged that Coffman instructed them to approve incomplete voter registration applications and Coffman had on several occasions tallied absentee ballots without members of the board being present. Both are violations of state election law.

Coffman put these accusations off as fabrications coming from “former disgruntled employees,” whose testimony was contradicted by a current employee and by Coffman himself on Monday.

But Coffman and his employees had more trouble explaining away the disappearance of a few hundred voter registration cards that came into the BOE just after the 2009 election from Precinct 405, at Winston-Salem State University, which was key to sitting Winston-Salem City Council member Derwin Montgomery’s victory over incumbent Joycelyn Johnson.

Jobs and reputations were on the line, as well as the integrity of Forsyth’s election process.

Voter registration cards are issued by mail to citizens when they register to vote for the first time. They get bounced back to the BOE when they are unclaimed by the recipients or there are other problems with the addresses on the card.

Because Montgomery bested Johnson by about 300 votes, the returned cards are significant.

Coffman himself informed the board of the cards in a December 2009 meeting; the meeting minutes described them as a “large amount” of “voter registration cards.” But on Monday Frank Dickerson, Democratic member of the board, decreed that the returned cards were actually part of a routine voter-list maintenance procedure, and that they are generated when someone fails to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

The list maintenance, Dickerson concluded, happened in February 2009, 10 months before the cards came back.

Unfortunately, the whole discussion is moot, because this box of cards, with voter registration information for hundreds of people, has disappeared from the Forsyth County Board of Elections office — at least, nobody has been able to produce it so far.

Good news for Coffman. Bad news for voters in Forsyth County.

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