Longtime Democratic lawmaker challenges his North Carolina primary result

A veteran North Carolina legislator filed protests Friday in his primary election in which he slightly trails, alleging that ballot distribution and counting mistakes along with unlawful voting-site campaigning cast doubt on the results.

Democratic Rep. Michael Wray, who joined the state House in 2005, filed the protests with elections boards in Halifax, Northampton and Warren counties, which are northeast of Raleigh and compose the 27th House District.

As of Friday afternoon, Rodney Pierce, a Halifax County teacher, led Wray by 35 votes from close to 12,000 ballots cast in last week’s primary. The winner faces no Republican opposition in the fall.

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Wray has been criticized by outside groups and other Democrats for aligning himself at times with leaders in the Republican-controlled House, where he’s been made one of the senior chairmen of the powerful finance committee.

Pierce called on Wray to concede, saying he “seems to want to change the rules more than a week after the contest ended, just because he lost.” And several groups favoring Pierce’s election put out news releases calling the accusations “bogus” and “dirty tricks.”

The North Carolina state Capitol is photographed in Raleigh, North Carolina. (LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images)

Wray challenges what happened with more than a dozen voters, several of whom received a ballot for the wrong primary, the protests say. He also alleges that a Democratic poll observer at a Halifax County precinct instructed voters to choose Pierce, violating laws against electioneering and coercion.

“We are not challenging any votes that were cast and counted. We are simply asking the county boards to ensure that they did not improperly reject any ballots,” Wray said in a news release. “We simply want to ensure that all valid ballots are counted.”

The boards in each county within the 27th District will meet to determine whether to dismiss each protest or call for a hearing in which evidence is received. The Warren and Halifax boards planned meetings for Tuesday to consider Wray’s protest.

The current vote margin between Pierce and Wray also would allow Wray to seek a recount — a decision that Wray said Friday would wait until race results are certified.

The protests were filed on the same day elections board in all 100 counties were scheduled to complete the final tabulations of ballot choices from the March 5 primaries. The Warren board delayed the completion of its canvass given the protest, elections director Debbie Formyduval said.

Leading up to Friday’s canvass, the county board examined details related to more than 11,000 provisional absentee or in-person ballots to determine whether they would be added to the initial counts. The State Board of Elections canvass is March 26.

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Separate from Wray’s potential defeat, three other General Assembly incumbents lost their primary elections: Democratic Sen. Mike Woodard of Durham County and Republican Reps. George Cleveland of Onslow County and Kevin Crutchfield of Cabarrus County.

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