The Sampson County Board of Education was overhauled as a result of Tuesday’s election, with three newcomers earning spots on the board. It was status quo for the N.C. House as longtime incumbents earned victories, while one of Sampson’s two judicial candidates will move on to November.
There will be three new members on the Sampson County Board of Education, and one on the Clinton City Board of Education. Just three incumbents filed to fill six open seats. The city’s two incumbents won election, all according to unofficial election results in Tuesday’s primary.
According to Board of Elections numbers, 13,016 out of Sampson’s 36,469 registered voters, or 35.7 percent of the county’s registered populous, turned out at the polls for the election. That trended a little higher than the 35.34 percent turnout statewide.
Of the 13,000-plus voters in Sampson, 2,580 people voted at the Sampson County Board of Elections during the 10-day early voting period. During that time, elections officials handed out 1,449 Democrat ballots, 1,123 Republican ballots and eight unaffiliated ballots.
For the Clinton City Schools board, incumbents E.R. Mason and Jason C. Walters retained their seats in a race that included newcomers Michael W. Lanier and Dana L. Scott. With three terms set to expire on the Sampson County Schools board in 2016, there were five candidates vying for those open seats. Incumbent E. Sonya McLaurin Powell was joined by four challengers, including Eugene Pearsall, Timothy (Tim) G. Register, Tracy Ivey Dunn and Patrick (Pat) Usher.
When the dust cleared late Tuesday and into the morning Wednesday, Mason, Lanier and Walters were the top three vote-getters for city school board, Mason atop all of them with 35.7 percent of the vote. Lanier garnered 29.3 percent and Walters took the last spot with 22.4 percent. While in the other race, it was Dunn (29.4 percent), Register (22.2 percent) and Usher (17.9 percent) all earning places on the county school board. (See related story on A1)
Incumbent Powell and Pearsall received 16.4 percent and 13.9 percent of the vote, respectively.
Pearsall benefited greatly from early voting — Powell enjoyed similar success — and were well ahead of the pack in one-stop voting tallies, which were the first to show before precinct returns began rolling in around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Rep. Larry M. Bell easily earned a ninth term in the N.C. House of Representatives, garnering 85.5 percent of the vote in the District 21 race to challenger Scotty L. Smith’s 14.5 percent, including more than 91 percent of the vote in Sampson. N.C. House District 22 Rep. William Brisson received 53.5 percent of the district’s votes in a race against Ben Snyder to earn his sixth term. That included 64.4 percent of the Sampson vote.
N.C. District Court Judge District 4, which includes Sampson, Duplin, Jones and Onslow counties, included two races. One race pitted current judge William (Billy) Sutton, Anita R. Powers and Paul Castle against each other for one seat, and Mario White, Nathan Sweet, Michael C. Surles and Kelly Neal against each other for another.
Sutton and White both garnered the most votes in their home county of Sampson — Sutton had 62 percent of the Sampson vote, White had nearly 40 percent in Sampson — but only Sutton will move on to November.
Through the district, Sutton received 47.8 percent of the vote to Anita Powers’ 35.3 percent and Paul Castle’s 16.9 percent. White was able to garner 22 percent of the district vote in the other race, not enough to challenge Sweet and Surles, who managed 31 percent and 29.4 percent, respectively.
White had the lead early, but was overtaken as the last half of the precincts reported.
The top two recipients of votes in the primary, for both seats, will appear on the ballot in the November general election.
In federal races, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each took North Carolina in Tuesday’s primary. In Sampson, Trump garnered 48.1 percent of the vote to Ted Cruz’s 40 percent to earn the GOP nod. It was not as close in the Democrat race, as Clinton earned a decisive 65.7 percent of the vote to Bernie Sanders’ 26.9 percent in this county.
With people still standing in line to vote when polls closed at 7:30 p.m., all were given the opportunity to cast ballots so returns were somewhat delayed. Board of Elections Director Ashley Tew said there were some computer software issues at the start of the day Tuesday, but election officials documented results manually and problems were rectified by 10 a.m.
One precinct had a couple minor issues toward the end of the day but those too were resolved, but that led to results not being finalized until close to 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Tew was spending the majority of the day Wednesday reviewing provisional ballots, none of which were expected to change the face of the races. However, there were a number of concerns from voters about their party affiliation at the polls.
“Our biggest issue I have seen was that there were people who wanted to vote for a party they were not affiliated with,” said Tew. “From what I remember, it was more registered Democrats saying they wanted a Republican ballot. A lot of them said they would not vote otherwise, so we had to go get a provisional ballot.”
For voters who disputed their party affiliation and election records showing they were registered opposite the party with which they wanted to vote, they were given that provisional ballot. All registration and modifications had to be made by the Feb. 19 deadline, Tew noted, so their information was re-entered and the provisional ballot accepted. However, the matter for each individual case will now be researched by Tew and elections officials and the matter ultimately decided by the three-member Board of Elections as to whether those ballots will be counted on canvass day next week.
“My job will be to research that,” Tew remarked.
Some voters also voiced their displeasure with having to state their name, address and political party, which has long been a state statute.
“Some of them said ‘you have my driver’s license, why do you need me to say that?’” Tew said, relaying the concern. “We had that issue during one-stop also, so they were prepared for that (concern). In a partisan party contest, they have to state their name, address and political affiliation. The law states that you must state that.”
Likewise, in November, their name and address will still have to be stated.
In all, Tew said she was surprised about how few provisional ballots there were that had to be researched.
“I was pleasantly surprised how few provisional ballots we had, especially with the first year of Voter ID,” said Tew, who noted there were not believed to be more than 10 such ballots at any given precinct. Most had between 3-5 provisionals. Voter ID-related provisionals will have until noon Monday to present acceptable form of identification.
One particular issue that is now being dealt with is a formal complaint made to the N.C. State Board of Elections against one candidate who was reportedly handing out modified sample ballots.
Sample ballots for Sampson County were available on the county’s website for voters’ perusal as a tool to familiarize themselves before they cast their votes. Anyone can also request them at the Board of Elections leading up to the election. However, the complaint was that those sample ballots were being doctored and handed out to people with one candidate’s name specifically marked out.
Tew said she received a call from someone — she said it was not the candidate whose name was allegedly tampered with on the sample ballot — expressing concerns of the activity. She said those sample ballots were being handed out in close proximity to the polls as a reference guide on who to vote for.
After receiving the call, Tew informed state elections officials, who told her they had already received the complaint and were reviewing it.
While it is legal to campaign 50 feet away from polling places, the state was reviewing the legality of the materials used. Tew said such materials are supposed to have some note on them indicating they were for the express intent of supporting a certain candidate, so as not to given the impression they were official documents.
“My understanding is they were passing out marked sample ballots telling them to ‘vote like this,’” said Tew, who questioned the morality of marking someone’s name, but said it is ultimately going to be reviewed by the state. “They passed those out to numerous people. If they are going to pass those out like that, it is supposed to something on it.”
A county canvass will be conducted on Tuesday, March 22. The final day for an election protest to be filed is March 24.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.