The Nash County Board of Elections plans to hold an emergency meeting this afternoon to solve a problem that both mayoral candidate Sandy Roberson and Rocky Mount Councilman Andre Knight say requires urgent attention.
Through his attorneys, Roberson, who is running against Bronson Williams in the runoff election for Rocky Mount mayor, filed letters with the Nash County Board of Elections, the Edgecombe County Board of Elections and the State Board of Elections asking that Rocky Mount voters from both counties have equal access to an early voting site in Rocky Mount.
One-stop, early voting started Wednesday. Under the current plan, Edgecombe County voters who live in Rocky Mount can vote for mayor in the Carmon Auditorium in the Edgecombe County Administration Building at 201 St. Andrew Street in Tarboro or at the Department of Social Services at 301 S. Fairview Road in Rocky Mount. These sites are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday through Nov. 1.
Nash County currently has only one site open for one-stop early voting through Oct. 23. During that time, early voters for Rocky Mount mayor must cast their votes at the Nash County Board of Elections Office located in Suite 109 of the Nash County Agriculture Center at 1006 Eastern Ave. in Nashville.
On Oct. 24, under the plan adopted unanimously by the Nash County Board of Elections on Monday, Nash County voters will have the option to cast early votes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Braswell Memorial Library at 727 North Grace St. in Rocky Mount.
All these sites are also open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 26.
Edgecombe County Elections Director Jerry Spruell said he and his board have no control over the decisions of the Nash County Board of Elections.
“I have received a notice on behalf of Mr. Sandy Roberson, Rocky Mount mayoral candidate, claiming an unfair advantage to Edgecombe County voters,” he said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “The basis of the claim is due to the difference in the number of one-stop, early voting sites currently available in Edgecombe and Nash.
“It is always our goal to be compliant with the state elections laws to have sites that are accessible to the voters. With that in mind, our Board of Elections voted on Tuesday, Oct. 15, to open a site at the Edgecombe County DSS office on Fairview Road in Rocky Mount beginning Oct. 16 for the full time, as we have done in recent elections. The Tarboro site was already voted on in July 2019.”
Nash County Elections Director John Kearney said Tuesday that the Nash County Board of Elections had made its unanimous decision as to the time and places for the early voting sites, and he did not expect the issue to be addressed again.
On Wednesday, the State Board of Elections released a statement saying it could do nothing to resolve the issue.
“The county boards of elections in Edgecombe and Nash counties adopted early voting plans unanimously. The state board, by law, can adopt an early voting plan for a county only if the county board is not unanimous and a county board member petitions the state board to adopt a plan for the county, Patrick Gannon, public information officer for the State Board of Elections, said in a prepared statement.
Later Wednesday, the Nash County Board of Elections sent out a notice stating that it plans to hold an emergency meeting at 4:30 p.m. today to discuss the issue. Members of the public may listen in by dialing 862-902-0250 and entering access code 449-2828, the agenda stated.
Roberson said he is glad to see this action by the board.
“I am appreciative that the county board of elections for Nash County is considering our request to extend days for early voting within the city limits of Rocky Mount. I appreciate their efforts and hope they will expand early voting within the city of Rocky Mount. I want to thank the county for their consideration,” Roberson told the Telegram.
In a statement from his campaign office, Roberson said he hopes the meeting will resolve the issue and “set things right.”
“As we stand, voters in Nash County who live in Rocky Mount and want to cast a ballot in the Nov. 5 election are being denied equal access to their elections because voters in Edgecombe County are being allowed to vote at a polling site inside the city limits, while Nash voters are required to drive 11 miles to be able to participate in early voting. That is unfair,” Roberson said in his statement. “This issue needs a quick resolution.”
While Knight normally stands poles apart from Roberson politically and philosophically, he agrees with Roberson about the need to correct the inequity of this situation.
“The Rocky Mount Branch of the NAACP is asking the State Board of Elections to ensure that Nash County offers the same early voting options for the same hours and days in the City of Rocky Mount as Edgecombe County. The N.C. NAACP has been petitioned to support the Rocky Mount branch. United Rocky Mount stands behind fully behind the efforts to provide full voter participation to all Rocky Mount residents,” said Knight, who serves as president of the Rocky Mount chapter of the NAACP.
However, Knight attributes the problem to a plot by Republicans to suppress the African-American vote since African-American voters are more likely to cast votes during the early election cycle, he said.
“Republican-led voter suppression is taking place in Nash County concerning the runoff election for mayor in the City of Rocky Mount. Bronson Williams, a registered Democrat, and Sandy Roberson, a registered Republican, are vying to be mayor of Rocky Mount in what should be a nonpartisan race.
“A Republican member of the Nash County Board of Elections led the charge to shorten the time for early voting in Nash County by eliminating the eight days. The member also voted to cut early voting hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That was later reversed,” Knight said.
Kearney said that statement is not true. The decision was never to cut the site back eight days because neither the Nash or Edgecombe county elections boards had any plan to have a site in Rocky Mount at all during this early election cycle. That decision was only made this week by both boards, he said.
Knight said Roberson had also tried to confuse voters by initial claims that the City of Rocky Mount was only paying for a Rocky Mount site to open in Edgecombe County and not in Nash County. On Tuesday, Kearney denied that claim as well and confirmed that the City of Rocky Mount is paying for the cost of opening the Nash County site. The decision to open the Braswell site later was prompted only by logistical concerns because that part of the library was already promised to other organizations, Kearney said.
Roberson said he is puzzled by Knight’s accusation, especially as he won the election for mayor handily in Nash County during the Oct. 8 election and came in third place in Edgecombe County.
“I am utterly confused. The race for mayor is non-partisan and the only folks making it about party affiliation are Bronson and Andre,” Roberson said. “And the Nash County Board of Elections is comprised of both Republicans and Democrats. I am not sure why the board has elected to shorten early voting in Nash County, but I believe the decision to not be in the best interest of Rocky Mount residents living in Nash County.”
Brad Cone, who heads Roberson’s campaign, also pointed out that the Nash Board of Elections is controlled 3-2 byDemocrats and early voting locations, dates and times require a unanimous vote of the board, as happened in this case.
If elected, Bronson Williams would become the city’s first black mayor in its 152-year history, Knight said.