The town of Sharpsburg may have to have their mayoral elections all over again. Thursday afternoon, the Wilson County Board of Elections decided unanimously that there was enough that went wrong during the election that it could have changed the outcome of who actually won.
“Based on the testimony given today, there is substantial evidence that a violation of election law or other irregularity did occur and might have affected the outcome of the November 7, 2017 election for the Town of Sharpsburg, position of Mayor, and therefore, request of the State Board of Elections to conduct a new election,” was the statement read by Chip Futrelle, board member, after deliberations.
Robert Brown, chair of the board, said their recommendation will be sent to the NC Board Of Elections for the final decision. The local board’s decision is not final.
Several people testified in front of board members, Robert Brown, chairman, Chip Futrelle, secretary and Doug Inscoe, member. Steve Beamon, county attorney, was also present.
Rena Morris, director of the Wilson County of board of elections, said she got a call telling her there were not enough ballots on the day of the election and she asked that the election workers get the names and phone numbers of those who were there to vote so they could be called again once the ballots were delivered.
She said she personally called every name on the list, only leaving a message for one person. However, she was told not all of the people on the list returned to actually vote. .
Morris said she believed the ballot problem could have affected the outcome of the election.
Randy Weaver, an incumbent, received 139 votes and his challenger, Robert L. Williams, Jr received 136 votes.
Williams filed an election protest. Emily Seawell, is a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She represents Williams in this matter.
Williams said there were lots wrong with the election. “Most of the people who live in Wilson portion of Sharpsburg are African-American and don’t have cars,” Williams explained. “They moved the place that was in walking distance for them to vote and a new place to vote was far away. It was raining that day. Then there were not enough ballots. Some of the people didn’t have the opportunity to come back to vote.”
Morris Garrett, a Sharpsburg resident, said he has a list with some of the voters who didn’t get a chance to cast their ballot, “I have some of the names, not all,” Garrett said. “And not all of the people I have on my list voted and there were others. I got there around 10:30 and the ballots didn’t get there until after 1pm.”
On the witness stand, Garrett said the election was a “mess.” “It was like something from the 1950s or 1960s,” Garrett said. “People were visibly upset.”
Ricardo Dew, President of the Wilson County NAACP, said he is glad the vote has to be done over. “There is a lot wrong in Sharpsburg,” Dew said. “The right to vote should not be looked at lightly. People died and worked hard so that every person could have the right to vote.”
Linda Cooper-Suggs, Wilson Democrat Chairwoman, agreed with Dew. “I am here because I wanted to see how this hearing was going to go,” Cooper Suggs said. “The right to vote is important and we can not at any time allow violations of the election law. There have been too much hard work and lives lost for the right to vote.”
Dr. Jim Grant, a human rights activist, said Sharpsburg’s mayoral election is just an indication of other things that need to be looked at more closely in the town. He said he hopes people will look at this election and realize how important their vote is. “There are so many people who have said their vote doesn’t count.” Grant said. “They say, ‘folks are going to do whatever they want to anyway.’ Well, this is proof that the work is not done. And if voting was not so important, why do people keep taking the vote of poor and minorities away from them. In Sharpsburg, they moved the polling place. They didn’t have enough ballots. That says the vote counts and every person who can vote should.”
Williams said he didn’t file a protest for himself. “The protest was filed for every person who came out to vote and could not,” Williams said. “This is for the right for everyone to cast their ballot.”
Brown said the board of elections will me again on Dec. 19th. At that time the fully written decision will be completed.