08/06/06 — LaRoque, Starling hearing set for Monday in Kinston

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LaRoque, Starling hearing set for Monday in Kinston

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on August 6, 2006 2:07 AM

The North Carolina State Board of Elections should make a decision this week in the District 10 congressional battle between Rep. Stephen LaRoque and Willie Ray Starling.

The state board decided last month to meet in Kinston beginning Monday to decide which candidate will receive the Republican nomination to face Democrat Van Braxton in November.

In the May primary, Starling upset LaRoque, R-Lenoir, by a 913-902 margin across the district, which consists of all of Greene and parts of Lenoir and Wayne counties.

LaRoque filed a protest claiming that some unaffiliated voters in Lenoir County were not given a chance to vote for him, as election law allows.

Lenoir County's Board of Elections heard his protest in May, upheld it and sent the case to the state board for a decision.

The state board could have certified Starling as the Republican nominee, but Chairman Larry Leake, Lorraine Shinn and Robert Cordle prevented that through a majority vote over Charles Winfree and Genevieve Sims.

Then, the board members voted unanimously to travel to Lenoir County to hear arguments from both sides.

In Kinston on Monday, Leake said both sides will not be able to use information from affidavits to present their cases. Instead, each side will be responsible for providing witnesses, testimony and information to prove or disprove the claim that voting irregularities occurred.

In Raleigh last month, LaRoque's lawyers presented their case that state law requires a poll worker to ask an unaffiliated voter what, if any, party he or she would like to vote for.

In a series of signed affadavits, some Lenoir unaffiliated voters claimed they were not asked which party they wanted to vote for, but went to the polls to vote for LaRoque.

Michael Crowell, the lawyer representing Starling, argued that those voters should have made that intention known to a poll worker before voting and verifying their ballots.

If the state board does not certify Starling as the winner this week, all three counties would have to hold new elections before November, according to state law. That would cost Lenoir, Wayne and Greene counties a total of about $40,000, of which Wayne would pay $6,500.

Although there are more than 4,000 Republican and unaffiliated eligible voters in the four Wayne County precincts of District 10, only 330 voters went to the polls to vote in May.

If more voters went to the polls in Wayne, the resulting tally would solidify Starling's nomination. If the results remained the same in Wayne and Greene counties after a new election, LaRoque would only have to gain 12 votes in Lenoir to change the election's outcome.

The hearing begins Monday at 9:30 a.m. in the Kinston City Council chambers at 207 E. King St. If a decision can't be made Monday, then the state board will reconvene on Tuesday at the same time and location.