Party chairmen mum about elections board nominations

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON - For those who thought no May primary would make for a dull off-year election period, choosing members for the county Board of Elections might provide some intrigue.
The chairmen for both parties in the county are mum on who they will nominate for the three open seats.
The state Board of Elections, which must approve nominations, plans to review the nominations at its June 24 meeting. County boards will be sworn in on July 22.
Democrats have two seats on the county board, currently held by board Chairman Lemark Harris and Hubert Ellis. Republicans have one representative, Listoe Harris. Harris replaced Richard Evans, who retired last year. The party that holds the governor's office gets to appoint two representatives and the other party one.
All three board members' terms expire on June 31.
Harris and Ellis could not be reached for comment. Listoe said he would be willing to serve the two-year term.
“I'd be glad to do it again,” Listoe said. “It is a pleasure, but it is really up to the party chairman. We have not discussed it.”
If any changes are made to the makeup of the board, they are expected to come from the Democratic side.
Bo Biggs, a former Re-publican Board of Elections chairman, says that a lot of people blame last year's primary debacle, which caused the state board to require new elections for two county commissioner seats, on the members of the election board. Listoe joined the board after the primary.
“Whether that is deserved or not, is unclear,” Biggs said. “But people say we need new blood in there. The Democrats could go with that and make a change. The Republicans have a newer member, so there may be less pressure on them.”
Last year's voting problems ranged from incorrect ballots, to a lack of voting booths, to voters being barred from voting. Those issues were compounded by malfunctioning tabulating machines.
Longtime elections Director Pearlean Revels was fired and former county Commissioner Bobby Dean Locklear was brought in on an interim basis to handle last year's general election. Ricky Harris was selected earlier this year to serve as permanent director.
A state Board of Elections report on the problems at the local elections office cited Harris and Evans for not participating in state board training. Harris had not attended a state training session in more than a year, according to the report. Evans, who resigned after the primary, had not attended training for three years. Ellis regularly attends training sessions, according to the report.
Racial profile
Ray Pennington, chairman of the county Democratic Party and the mayor of Lumberton, said that he and other party leaders will consider a number of factors, including the past performance of board members, before he sends his nominees to the state board.
“My main concern is to get people on the board that take the role seriously,” Pennington said. “Our electoral process is important to all of us, and the membership on that board should reflect that.”
Race could also be a factor.
Pennington said local Democrats have expressed concern about the racial makeup of the board. Since the early 1980s, he said, Democrats have supported a plan to keep the board racially balanced, with Republicans nominating a white and the Democrats nominating an Indian and a black.
“It has been a while since a white was nominated (by the Democratic Party) and that seems to be a concern,” Pennington said. “I'm guessing it has been almost 20 years, but I'm asking the elections office to give me a little history.”
Don Metzger, chairman of the county Republican Party, said he plans to discuss his party's nomination at the next meeting of the executive committee on May 20. He said local Democrats' quandary over a racially balanced board is not expected to be a factor.
Metzger, who was elected chairman in March, said he has not given much thought to who the nominee will be. But he did say he is impressed with Listoe.
Metzger said that he plans to get input from local GOP members before any decision is made.
“I'm only one person, and I want whoever we select to reflect the will of the party,” Metzger said.

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