08/08/06 — Counties will vote ... again on District 10 House race

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Counties will vote ... again on District 10 House race

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on August 8, 2006 1:51 PM

KINSTON -- Voters in four Wayne County precincts will have to go back to the polls to help determine the Republican candidate for the District 10 seat in the state House.

The state Board of Elections ruled Monday that voting errors in the May primary negated the results that gave Willie Ray Starling an 11-vote victory over incumbent Stephen LaRoque.

The state board unanimously agreed with LaRoque's claim that the number of voting irregularities that occurred in Lenoir County in May were sufficient to have changed the outcome.

A date for the new election has not been set. Voters in four eastern Wayne precincts will be involved: Spring Creek, New Hope Friends Church, Dudley Fire Station and Indian Springs Fire Station. About 4,000 registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters in those four precincts are eligible to cast ballots in the election.

The winner of the second primary will face Democrat Van Braxton in November.

LaRoque was pleased with the decision.

"The board made their decision based on the evidence and I look forward to a new, fair election. I truly believe we won't see any problems with the new election. It'll be a simple ballot and the people will go out and make their decision," LaRoque said.

Starling said LaRoque did not prove the mistakes would have changed the outcome.

"The evidence wasn't there. There having a new election based on conjecture and speculation. They didn't prove anything," Starling said.

Starling said would not appeal the decision but simply go back to campaigning.

LaRoque said some voters who should have been able to cast ballots for him were denied the right. Both the Democrat and Republican parties permit unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in their primaries.

State laws requires poll workers to ask unaffiliated voters whether they want to vote Republican, Democrat or a straight unaffiliated ticket before going to the ballot box. Lenoir Elections Supervisor Dana King testified Monday that she had trained poll workers not to ask because it could influence their decision. She said that after discovering her error, she called precinct judges to tell them about the need to advise unaffiliated voters of their rights.

Lenoir resident John Walters said he went to the polls May 2 to vote. Walters, who is registered unaffiliated, told the state board that when he arrived at the Mosely Hall polling place, he was not asked which party he wanted to vote for. When Walters told the poll worker it was his right to choose which ballot he wanted, the poll worker disagreed and gave him a straight unaffiliated ballot. Walters said he tried to convince the poll worker otherwise but gave up.

"When I was denied twice, I just gave up the fight and voted," Walters said.

Poll workers also testified that some voting machine had problems on May 2. One had not been properly calibrated, said C. Meredith Swann, and could have recorded votes improperly. Lenoir had switched to new touch-screen voting machines this year.

The Lenoir County Board of Elections held a hearing at the end of May to listen to LaRoque's complaint and forwarded it to the state board.

Wayne County Board of Elections Director Gary Sims said last month that it would cost about $6,500 to hold another District 10 primary in the county.

All of Greene County is included in the district. Greene officials have said it would cost the county about $15,000 to hold a second vote.

Lenoir officials said they expect to spend about the same amount of money as Greene in order to hold a second primary. Of Lenoir's 22 precincts, 17 are in District 10.