The New Hanover County Board of Elections is investigating potentially illegal robocalls received by county residents before and on Election Day.
During a May 12 meeting, board chairman John Ferrante said the calls may have been intended as a practical joke or to suppress votes. In either scenario, the investigation will determine if election law was violated.
“We’re not making any conclusions. We’re not prejudging anything. But we do have a duty and an obligation to investigate,” Ferrante said.
Ferrante shared a statement outlining the issue and the board’s commitment to discover who was responsible for the calls and whether laws were broken. The board unanimously approved adoption of the statement.
During calls placed May 5 and 6, a voice alleging to be New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger requested votes for County Commission Chairman Woody White in the 7th Congressional District Race and Michael Lee in the North Carolina Senate race.
Caller IDs displayed both Berger’s cell phone and a New Hanover County office line as the source. County officials were quick to deny involvement after hundreds of complaints poured in.
White requested an investigation into the calls in a May 8 email to county officials.
“… It is imperative that we do whatever is necessary to determine the culprit and take action against them. Ignoring this is not an option,” White stated in the email.
Berger denied a role in the calls, but Ferrante said his involvement is not ruled out yet.
“It’s a voice with a caller ID number and that’s the starting point,” Ferrante said. “All you can deal with is the facts as they are. It appears to be a certain person. Certain records could prove that or not prove that.”
Ferrante said the vendor behind the calls should point to the responsible party. Vendors are required to keep records for 24 months.
Upon completion, the investigation’s results will be shared with the North Carolina Board of Elections. The New Hanover County District Attorney and North Carolina Attorney General will be notified of election law violations. Ferrante said District Attorney Ben David has already pledged support of the investigation.
No estimated time of completion could be provided but Ferrante suggested the upcoming election might slow down the investigation.
“We want to stay focused on the election obviously, but we feel the voters deserve some type of input from us,” Ferrante said. “If nothing else, then we’ll let people know this isn’t the place where you should be coming in and playing practical jokes.”