‘Democracy in action’

Kevin Spradlin Richmond County Daily Journal

November 12, 2013

A lesson in democracy took place Tuesday at the Richmond County Board of Elections Office in downtown Rockingham that could double as part of an argument that your vote doesn’t count.

Or, perhaps, that the voters who didn’t show up at the polls count just as much as the ones who do.

Relegated to a drawing of a single name from a basket, incumbent Gene Willard earned the four-year term on the Rockingham City Council while fellow incumbent Denise Sullivan won her first election but settled for the two-year term.

On election night Nov. 5, Willard and Sullivan finished in a dead heat with 606 votes apiece. Travis Billingsly was the top vote-getter with 615 votes while challenger Teressa Victoria Beavers was the odd person out in a four-candidate race for three available seats. Beavers finished with 402 votes.

The top two vote-getters win four-year terms on the council while the third-place candidate faces re-election in only two years.

It appeared the difference would come down to the provisional ballots. The Board of Elections met at 10 a.m. Tuesday to begin the process. Of the 11 provisional ballots, board members rejected one of them due to the person having registered to vote five days after the Oct. 11 deadline.

On the 10 accepted provisional ballots, the vote was again equally divided. The count stood at 611 votes apiece. The official result was voiced by Elections Supervisor Connie Kelly after the lone voting machine had processed all of the provisional ballots.

“You all are not going to believe it,” Kelly said. “It’s still a tie.”

City Manager Monty Crump suggested someone “flip a coin” for the extra two years — and that is, as it turns out, one of the permissible ways to resolve the issue. Willard was already at the elections office but Sullivan, a Richmond County schoolteacher, was at school.

“We need both to be present,” said board member A.B. Brown.

Sullivan was summoned from the classroom and she and Willard agreed to, instead of a coin flip, drawing a name from a basket.

“Democracy in action,” Crump said.

Willard acknowledged that he knew many people who intended to vote for him but later said they never made it to the polls.

As the elections board members are not to be involved in such matters, Crump asked the question of the day: “Who pulls it out?”

Kelly, after consulting with counsel from the state board of elections office, said a neutral third party could do so. They requested Chavis Everett, a probation and parole officer with the N.C. Department of Correction. Everett’s office shares the same building with the board of elections.

Each candidate took a turn to shake the covered basket. Then Everett pulled a single folded slip of paper from the basket and, without unfolding it, handed it to Brown.

Brown joked at first that it read his own name, but soon ended the suspense and indicated Willard won.

“That’s good,” Sullivan said as both candidates congratulated each other.