Smithfield Herald

Elections board supports second vote in Benson

District 2 Commissioner John Bonner, who won by seven votes on Nov. 3, says he wants a fair election
District 2 Commissioner John Bonner, who won by seven votes on Nov. 3, says he wants a fair election jdjackson@newsobserver.com

After a hearing by the Johnston County Board of Elections, Benson is one step closer to holding a second election for its District 2 Board of Commissioners seat.

On Nov. 3, incumbent Commissioner John Bonner held onto his seat, edging challenger Curtis Dean McLamb by seven notes. But after McLamb raised a red flag, an investigation by elections supervisor Leigh Ann Price showed that 37 Benson voters cast ballots in the wrong district.

At a meeting on Nov. 19, the Johnston Board of Elections recommended that the state board authorize a second District 2 election in Benson.

McLamb first suspected something was amiss when supporters living in District 2 told him his name was not on their ballots. After the election, which he lost 85-78, McLamb compared district boundaries to voter rolls and found 102 possible displaced voters. Of those 102, Price found that 25 voters should have received a District 2 ballot but didn’t, while 12 voters who received a District 2 ballot should have received a District 1 or District 3 ballot instead. Those totals are more than the seven votes that decided the election.

“If I had lost in a landslide, I would have said, ‘Just fix it,’ ” McLamb said during the Nov. 19 hearing. “But with it this close, I want to see another election. I just want it done right.”

The county board of elections agreed, as did the winner.

“I agree with the process,” Bonner said on his way out of the hearing room. “I’m confident they’ll do the right things to make sure this is a fair election.”

The county board of elections can’t call for a second election – that’s up to the state – but it strongly suggested one was appropriate.

“There’s no evidence of misconduct or a rules violation, but there has been an irregularity,” board of member Gordon Woodruff said. “Nobody intended for this to happen. ... We want to do this by the rules, be fair and transparent. We found probable cause in the first hearing of an irregularity, and it should be addressed.”

The state board is expected to decide on a second election at its December meeting. The last time a Johnston County election needed a do-over was in 2007 in Clayton, when voters outside of town received Town Council ballots.

Price said she’s still investigating this year’s irregularity. In an email after the election, Benson Town Manager Matt Zapp said the town updated its district maps after an annexation in 2008 and forwarded those updated maps to the county board of elections. Price said her office never received those updates.

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson

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