05/18/06 — Lenoir will take look at LaRoque race

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Lenoir will take look at LaRoque race

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 18, 2006 1:53 PM

A public hearing on state Rep. Stephen LaRoque's primary election protest will be held Monday at 10 a.m. in the Lenoir County Board of Elections office in Kinston.

LaRoque finished a handful of votes behind challenger Willie Ray Starling, of Wayne County, in the Republican primary earlier this month. The district includes all of Greene County, most of Lenoir and a small section of eastern Wayne.

LaRoque, a Kinston businessman who has served two terms in the House, requested a recount after last week's canvass showed Starling still held an 11-vote lead. State law permits a recount if the difference between vote totals is one percent or less. The canvass showed Starling finished with 913 votes to LaRoque's 902.

But LaRoque has filed a complaint about how ballots were cast, saying some voters in Lenoir were not given the proper ballot, so they could not vote for him.

Unaffiliated voters can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries, or simply vote a straight unaffiliated ballot. LaRoque said poll workers did not inform some unaffiliated voters of their options.

State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said Wednesday that recounts requested in races in three other counties around the state were conducted Monday and Tuesday with no change in the results.

Bartlett said LaRoque's protest will be heard in Lenoir because that is where the alleged voting irregularities took place. Lenoir County Board of Elections Director Dana King said the county's three board members will hear the case presented by LaRoque and his lawyer at the board's office at 110-C S. Heritage St.

The Lenoir board will act as an initial court proceeding, with the power to subpoena witnesses and order them to testify under oath. The hearing will have three stages: the findings of fact; looking at the conclusions of the pertinent election laws; and issuing an order.

If LaRoque is not satisfied with the Lenoir board's decision, he can appeal it to the state Board of Elections, which would act as an appeals court, Bartlett said.

"They can hear any appeal on record, request new information or remand it back for additional information," he said.

The recourse from a decision by the state Board of Elections would be to appeal to Wake County Superior Court, Bartlett added.