The decision by the Nash County Board of Elections to move one of the precinct polling places from Parkwood Baptist Church, which has some logistical issues, to The Impact Center at Word Tabernacle Church is causing concern for Republicans who say they see this as a clear conflict of interest.

The decision was made Dec. 16 at a regular meeting of the Nash County Board of Elections. The matter was not on the agenda and was brought forward by Chairman Kelly Shore, who is a Democrat. The vote was 3-2, split down party lines as the Republican members of the board expressed concerns that state Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, is the pastor of Word Tabernacle and is running for re-election in 2020.

Though the leadership of the Nash County Democratic Party was present at the meeting, Nash County Republican Party Chairman Mark Edwards said the county Republican Party was not informed that a vote would be taken on the issue and noted that it was not on the agenda. Shore would not respond to a request from the Telegram regarding whether this issue had been discussed in advance of the meeting with Democratic members of the board or with Democrat party officials.

“The Nash County Republican Party is very disappointed the Democrats on the Board of Elections deviated from the normally transparent business of the board,” Edwards said. “By not putting the matter on the agenda and hiding the Democrats’ desire to move a polling place to Rev. Gailliard’s church, the board denied me, the Republican Party and other members of the public the opportunity to speak out publicly against such a move prior to the board’s divided vote.”

Edwards said he hopes that Gailliard would see the conflict of interest.

“I hope Rep. James Gailliard will ask the Board of Elections to reconvene and to rectify this mistake that has the potential to taint his participation in the (state) House race,” Edwards said. “When Rev. Gailliard was on the ballot previously, the Board of Elections rightly decided Word Tabernacle was not appropriate for a polling place. If it was an inappropriate polling place then, it is an inappropriate polling place now. It is just that simple.”

The Telegram asked Gailliard if he had been contacted about the issue before the decision was made.

Gailliard responded, noting that “your email is addressed to me as the representative but it is in my role as pastor I am responding.”

“I received a phone call from Kelly Shore with Nash Board of Elections asking if The Impact Center would be available to be used as a voting precinct location beginning for the primary election in March 2020, as it was one of the locations being considered,” Gailliard said. “We checked the calendar and determined the facility was indeed available. This did not seem like an unusual request, since the building was used during the 2016 primary election for early voting.”

Gailliard did not run for office in the 2016 election.

Gailliard said the facility, which is large and has ample parking, often is used for community activities.

“The Impact Center is a shared-use community facility that was used by more than 200 community groups last year,” Gailliard said. “It has become an anchor asset for Rocky Mount. Additionally, it is regularly used by many public entities, including our local Council of Governments and the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.”

Gailliard said using churches as polling places is a common occurrence in this area.

“Our community has a precedent of using church facilities to advance civic engagement. In 2018, two facilities that are connected to a candidate were used as voting locations, and there was no discussion of a conflict of interest,” Gailliard said.

That point was raised during Monday’s meeting, but board member Kevin Lewis noted that in one of those cases, it was a member of the church who was running for office, not the pastor and leader of the church.

In the other case, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church was used as a polling place in 2018. John Check, who ran against Gailliard in that election and is running against him again in 2020, is a former pastor of that church.

However, Check said the association is so tenuous as to be ludicrous.

“That dog won’t fight,” Check said. “I pastored that church from 1996 to 2004. It was used as a temporary polling place in 2018, when I ran for office. There was a 14-year gap between. Only about 20 people at that church even know me.”

Gailliard said he sees no conflict of interest in holding the elections at the facility even though he serves as pastor of Word Tabernacle and as the president of The Impact Center.

“Because all election facilities follow rules and regulations prescribed by state law, I see no conflict of interest,” Gailliard said. “(Nash County Elections Director) John Kearney and his staff have always worked hard to ensure fair elections, and I have confidence he will continue to do so. We as a church simply want to ensure fair and accessible elections for everyone, whether that is best accomplished at The Impact Center or at another location.”

At last Monday’s meeting, Democratic members of the county elections board noted that Check also had run for office while N.C. Wesleyan College had a polling place on its campus.

In response, Check said these situations were not in any way comparable.

“Though the Dunn Center was used as a polling place when I last ran for office, I was only one of about 200 employees at Wesleyan,” Check said. “My office was about a mile from the campus and I was rarely near the Dunn Center. And I was not the organization’s leader.”

Edwards said that using The Impact Center offers Gailliard a clear advantage in the race.

“Of course, all candidates are looking for every possible advantage in an election. However, candidates must stop short of using their influence with members of the Board of Elections to help themselves get more votes,” Edwards said.

Edwards noted that other options are available.

“At the meeting, the Board of Elections was given several options on how to handle any problems with the current polling place. They could have moved the polling place to a neutral church or they could have consolidated precincts. That they chose the option that benefits the Democrat candidate is both telling and wrong,” Edwards said. “Fortunately, the board has time to fix this mistake before it is too late.”

Edwards is hoping that the board will reconsider its decision.

If not, the issue may be taken out of their hands. Patrick Gannon, spokesman of the State Board of Elections, confirmed that the state board has to give final approval to all polling site changes.

Edwards said he is already working with state Republican Party Executive Director Jonathan Sink to make sure that this matter is properly considered at the state board level if the Nash Board of Elections does not reconsider.