By Sarah Nagem
Jody Greene, who was suspended on Tuesday by a North Carolina Superior Court judge amid an investigation into racist comments made by the Columbus County sheriff during a recorded phone call in 2019, will remain on the Nov. 8 ballot.
But legal experts and the state Board of Elections are trying to determine what would happen if Greene wins a majority vote for reelection, even if he is removed from office during a scheduled hearing on Oct. 24.
“Ballots have been printed and cast,” Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the N.C. State Board of Elections, said in an email to the Border Belt Independent on Wednesday afternoon. “The candidate will remain on the ballot, of course, and votes cast for that candidate will be counted.”
County boards of elections, including the board in Columbus County, began mailing requested absentee ballots to voters on Sept. 9. One-stop, early voting will begin Oct. 20 and end Nov. 5.
The situation in Columbus County, where the sheriff could be removed from office before the election, presents a unique circumstance that could lead to lawsuits.
“We do not wish to comment on hypothetical scenarios beyond that, since this issue could come before the county board or State Board of Elections after the election,” Gannon said in an email.
Greene, who was elected in 2018 as the first Republican sheriff in Columbus County, was suspended Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser. Local District Attorney Jon David made the request to the court, alleging that Greene committed corruption while in office.
David, a Republican, has also asked the State Bureau of Investigation to begin a probe of Greene’s office for potential obstruction of justice.
In a recently released 2019 phone call recorded by Jason Soles, a Democrat who is running against Greene in next month’s election, Greene is heard making racist comments, including remarks disparaging Black employees of the sheriff’s office.
Greene said on Facebook he would not resign, despite calls from David and the local and state NAACP.
On Wednesday, the Columbus County Board of Commissioners appointed Bill Rogers as acting sheriff, according to The News Reporter.
Greene won the 2018 election by fewer than 40 votes against incumbent sheriff Lewis Hatcher. This year, the campaigns for Greene and Soles have raised roughly the same amount – about $15,300 for Greene and $15,600 for Soles, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections.
Columbus County has about 15,200 registered Democrats, 10,300 registered Republicans and 11,000 registered voters who are not affiliated with a political party.
Greene’s victory four years ago was a sign of shifting politics in southeastern North Carolina. State Sen. Danny Britt was elected two years earlier, in 2016, to represent Robeson and Columbus counties, becoming the first Republican in over a century to win the district.
Now Greene’s fate could be determined by the courts. But removing a sheriff from office is rare in North Carolina. Under state law, a Superior Court judge in the county where the sheriff was elected has the sole authority to remove him or her from office.