The Wilson County Board of Elections is supporting a mayoral candidate’s call for a new election in Sharpsburg after an Election Day ballot shortage caused some voters to be turned away.
The board planned to meet again Tuesday, Dec. 19, to finalize its order after holding a hearing last week and determining a do-over was necessary.
Mayoral candidate Robert Williams, who lost by only three votes last month, had argued that the ballot shortage could have swayed the election because some of his supporters weren't able to cast ballots.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has been assisting Williams because, an attorney there said, “all too often we see black voters being denied their ability to elect their candidates of choice and to people of color being able to serve in elected office.” Williams is African-American and the precinct affected is majority African-American.
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The Wilson County board can’t order a new election on its own. Its recommendation will be sent to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which makes the final call but is currently vacant.
An attorney for the agency has said election issues requiring state board action will likely be forwarded to Wake County Superior Court because of the vacant board. For now, Mayor Randy Weaver will remain in office until the election results are certified.
Sharpsburg, a town of about 2,000 people located between Wilson and Rocky Mount, is split between three counties – Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson – and the voters living in the Wilson County section of town were required to vote at a polling place in Elm City, about six miles away. According to Williams’ complaint, the Wilson County Board of Elections only printed 12 Sharpsburg ballots, even though 200 registered voters were eligible to participate at the site.
“It took election officials two and a half hours to print and deliver additional ballots to the Elm City Elementary polling place,” the complaint says. “By that time, many qualified Sharpsburg voters had left the polling place without voting, and many of those who left were unable to come back later in the day because of their work schedules, lack of transportation, and the distance between the polling place in Elm City and their homes in Sharpsburg.” Williams and the Southern Coalition noted that others didn’t try to vote after they heard about the ballot shortage.
In the past, election officials have extended polling hours when similar voting problems have occurred, but the filing says that didn’t happen even though Wilson County and state election officials were aware of the problem.
Wilson County elections director Rena’ Morris said the ballot shortage “occurred due to an erroneous statistics report that I use to order ballots according to the number of registered voters eligible to vote each ballot style.”
The state elections board is vacant because of a lawsuit brought by Gov. Roy Cooper and is unable to act on any requests to extend voting hours, agency attorney Josh Lawson said. “Staff are not authorized to order an hours extension in place of State Board members,” he said in an email. “Without a seated State Board, only the courts could extend hours on Election Day. Under ordinary circumstances – as in the past – staff would brief State Board members, who would meet in-person or telephonically and vote on an hours extension.” County boards don’t have legal authority to extend voting hours without state approval.
The town of Sharpsburg is about 59 percent African-American, according to Census data. Incumbent mayor Weaver, who is white, received 139 votes, while Williams received 136 votes. Of the 70 votes cast in the Wilson County section, 86 percent were for Williams.