Early voting for municipal elections in most Twin Counties towns begins today, but it begins in controversy.
One-stop early voting for most Twin Counties towns, including the runoff election for Rocky Mount mayor, begins today. Edgecombe County will have two sites open: the Board of Elections office in Tarboro and the Department of Social Services on Fairview Road in Rocky Mount.
However, the only Nash County voting site located in Rocky Mount will not open for voting until Oct. 24, so Rocky Mount voters in Nash County will have to go to the Board of Elections Office in Nashville to vote for mayor before then.
Mayoral candidate Sandy Roberson sent out a notice Tuesday announcing his protest of this situation, which he says offers an unfair advantage to Edgecombe County voters. The issue matters because Roberson handily won the election for Rocky Mount mayor in Nash County but placed third among Edgecombe County voters. Now he faces a runoff with Bronson Williams, who won the second highest number of overall votes from both counties.
“I am giving official notice this afternoon that my campaign has retained legal counsel and will seek appropriate relief regarding the irregularities we are seeing in the execution of early voting in Nash and Edgecombe counties,” Roberson said in his letter released on Tuesday afternoon.
Roberson also questioned the financial aspects of the situation.
“Furthermore, it is our understanding that the City of Rocky Mount has agreed to pay Edgecombe County for operations of the early voting site inside the city limits of Rocky Mount. However, that same offer to pay Nash County has not been extended and that Nash County will offer early voting at their Nashville office beginning (today) but will not have a site in the City of Rocky Mount until Oct. 24 — eight days later,” the letter said.
While Roberson is correct about the disparity in starting dates for early voting for mayor at the Rocky Mount sites, he is not correct about the financial aspects of the situation.
“The city has agreed to reimburse Nash County for the cost of the runoff to include the Rocky Mount one-stop site. I have no idea where that information originated,” said Nash County Elections Director John Kearney in response to questions about whether the city was refusing to pay for a Rocky Mount site for Nash County voters.
Through his attorney, Roberson has filed a protest with the State Board of Elections, the Nash County Board of Elections and the Edgecombe County Board of Elections. Copies of those documents were sent to the newspaper.
Roberson said the issue is one of equity and fairness.
“Nash County voters living in Rocky Mount should not be denied access to an early voting site inside the city limits. Rocky Mount citizens should not be required to drive the 11 miles to gain access to ballots for early voting. Both boards of elections should coordinate access to Rocky Mount citizens with locations within the city limits,” Roberson said in his statement.
In Nash County, one-stop early voting for elections for Bailey, Middlesex, Nashville, Red Oak, Sharpsburg and Spring Hope will be held from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday though Nov. 1. Sharpsburg elections also will be open during early voting, but Kearney said residents need to make sure they are voting in the proper county as the town is split between three counties. One Saturday session will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m on Oct. 26.
One-stop voting for these elections will be held only at the Nash County Board of Elections office in Nashville until Oct. 24 when the Braswell Library location will be available.
Kearney said the Nash County Board of Elections voted unanimously on Monday to open the library site for early voting, a move that was not planned earlier before it became clear that a runoff for Rocky Mount mayor was needed. Because of previous commitments at the library location, it will not consistently be available for voting until then, he said.
“This decision was made by the board on Monday and we have no plans to meet again and vote on the issue,” Kearney said. “As far as I am concerned, the issue has been decided. Each county runs their own election board and we have no say over what happens in Edgecombe County.”
In the letter to the Nash and Edgecombe Boards of Election, Roberson’s attorney, Alexander Dale, stressed the importance of a timely resolution to the issue.
“Our request at this time is for the counties to coordinate the same early voting opportunities for Rocky Mount citizens in both counties,” Dale said. “A citizen’s ability to vote in a municipal election should not be impacted by whether the citizen’s residence falls in one county or the other. We appreciate the immense time pressures that are placed on each of you and your offices during this time period, but the fairness of this runoff is meaningful.”
Dale suggests two possible options to solve the issue: either Nash County opens its early voting location inside the city limits of Rocky Mount today or “no early voting is taken in the City of Rocky Mount runoff election until Oct. 24 when the Nash County early voting location in the Rocky Mount city limits is open,” the letter states.
Voting for elections in other Nash County towns including Castalia, Dortches, Momeyer and Whitakers will take place only on Nov. 5 as those towns do not allow for early voting, Kearney said.
Edgecombe County Elections Director Jerry Spruell did not respond to a request for an interview to discuss this issue and to verify the early voting information for Edgecombe County. This information will be updated in an article on Thursday.