Smithfield Herald

Benson might vote again

A Benson Board of Commissioners candidate who lost by seven votes is asking for a second election. He says a mix-up in voting district boundaries displaced as many as 102 potential voters.

Curtis Dean McLamb, 38, lost to incumbent Commissioner John Bonner in District 2. But McLamb says some voters who wanted to cast their ballots for him didn’t get the opportunity.

The Johnston County Board of Elections will take up the matter in a hearing set for 2 p.m. Thursday in the commissioners meeting room at the Johnston County Courthouse, 207 E. Johnston St., Smithfield. The board will decide whether to recommend to the state board of elections to hold a second Benson election. The state BOE would make the final call.

On election day, a couple of McLamb’s friends and relatives who live in District 2 said they didn’t see his name on their ballots. McLamb started questioning some of his neighbors, and others experienced the same problem. The final vote was 85-78.

On Nov. 9, he filed a protest with the Johnston Board of Elections, which determined that McLamb presented enough evidence to warrant a formal hearing.

“Even if I came out ahead that night and I won, it wouldn’t be right for me to accept the position after I heard about the mistakes that were made,” McLamb said. “I wouldn’t have felt like it was fair.”

In his election protest, McLamb highlighted the names of 102 voters who should have been in Distict 2 but were not.

“It would make a difference if they were voting in the right area,” he said.

In an email sent on Nov. 10, Town Manager Matt Zapp said Benson last redrew the boundaries of its voting districts after a large-scale annexation in July 2008. Election law requires voting districts to be roughly equal in population, so Benson updates its voting districts if necessary after each census and annexation, Zapp said.

After the 2008 annexation, Zapp said, Benson redrew its voting maps and forwarded them to the Johnston County Board of Elections, along with a request for the elections office to notify Benson voters affected by the changes.

“According to our records, we have followed all guidelines outlined by federal, state, county and town laws to keep our voting districts mapped and updated with the Johnston County Board of Elections,” Zapp said. “We are working with all parties to solve this issue and guarantee that the results of our municipal elections are fair and reflect the will of our citizens.”

Johnston elections supervisor Leigh Anne Price said her staff and Benson officials are looking through voting district maps to determine what happened. It’s unclear if past elections could have been affected by the apparent mix-up. Benson elects three commissioners from districts and three at large.

As Price recalled, the last time something like this occurred in the county was in the 2007 Clayton Town Council election. It was a close race, and a number of people living outside the town limits wrongly received ballots to vote for town council and mayor. That number of ballots exceeded the margin of votes by which a sitting councilman lost, and the state ordered a redo of the election.

McLamb, a Benson native, said he had spoken to Bonner, and he said Bonner told him he wants the election to be right too.

At this point, McLamb said he just wants a fair election to take place. If a second election doesn’t happen, he would be upset.

“I will take it as far as it needs to go,” McLamb said, adding that he would appeal any decision that doesn’t result in redoing the election.

McLamb, a senior service specialist with Piedmont Natural Gas, said he ran because he’s always been politically conscious and has some ideas for good changes his town. He wants to bring more business to Benson, add bleachers and restrooms at town ball fields and reduce turnover in the police department.

Knopf: 919-829-8955