Campaign issue kicks off voting

Apr. 27, 2014 @ 04:15 AM

While Thursday opened up voting for the 2014 Primary Election in Rutherford County, the first day was hampered with a complaint … and, subsequently, an arrest.

On Friday, Keith Hunter, Jr. was arrested by Rutherford County Sheriff’s deputies and charged with an election law violation.

According to Debbie Bedford, Rutherford County Director of Elections, an individual outside the Board of Elections office in Spindale was handing out sample ballots to voters with the name of Amanda Davis — a Republican seeking the nomination for Clerk of Court — blacked out.

“I was called a little after noon and someone reported to Amanda Davis that someone was handing out images of sample ballots with her name marked off it and said she dropped out of the race,” Bedford said.

The issue was that Davis has never indicated she was dropping out of the race, making the sample ballots inaccurate.

“I’m very concerned,” Davis said. “I was voter No. 173 and I know the ballots were taken just shortly before I arrived. That leaves a lot of voters who were told something that wasn’t true.”

Bedford filed a non-voting systems incident report with the State Board of Elections. That report cited the issue as a “Candidate/Campaign Worker Issue.”

In the report, Bedford said she spoke with “the person handing out reproduced sample ballots and obtained a copy. They marked through her (Davis’) name and the volunteer said he did not know why but just assumed she (Davis) was no longer running,”

The report does not give that volunteer’s name but it does name Hunter as someone Bedford also spoke in reference to being responsible for checking ballots.

Hunter said he was not at the Board of Elections office at the time the inaccurate sample ballots were being handed out.

“When I was called, I went down there, took the ballots and threw them away,” Hunter said, and Bedford confirmed Friday.

Hunter did say he handed out similar sample ballots but those only had Julius Owens’ — incumbent Republican County Commissioner — name highlighted. He said he never handed out any sample ballots with Davis’ name blacked out.

However, the sample ballots Hunter was handing out were not accurate according to state law. The sample ballots are supposed to include if it was authorized by any candidate and who the sample ballots were paid for by. Neither indications were made on the sample ballots with Owens’ name highlighted.

“I spoke about the complaint with Debbie and took corrective action,” Hunter said. “I handed people the new sample ballots that were marked correctly.”

Bedford said she told Hunter about the requirements for sample ballots. She also indicated the Elections Office will review what is being handed out at one stop voting locations each day.

This is not the first incident regarding the Clerk of Court race.

Jerry Wease, Democrat candidate for Clerk of Court, filed a misdemeanor criminal summons against Hunter on April 11 after Hunter removed campaign signs belonging to Wease without his permission.

Campaign signs were placed on property belonging to the Town of Forest City and were removed by town employees. Hunter learned of the sign removal and said he went to retrieve signs for the candidates he volunteers for and wound up picking up all the signs.

A few days later, Tammy Aldridge, who is running for the Republican nomination for Clerk of Court, came under fire after she placed a campaign ad on an ATM machine on the main floor of the Rutherford County Courthouse. The advertisement, which was removed later in the week, prompted Clerk of Court Lisa Smith to ask county officials to move the ATM to another location. State law does stipulate where advertising can be placed in relation to state-owned property, but there is no law governing where advertising is placed on county-owned buildings or property.

As for the latest campaign issue, Davis said she does believe there was malice intended.

“I think, otherwise all the candidates names would have been marked out, not just mine,” Davis said.

According to state law (NCGS 163-274), it is a Class 2 misdemeanor for “any person to publish or cause to be circulated derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in any primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard for its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election.”

Davis said she does plan to file charges.

“I’ve just come to the point where nothing shocks me,” Davis said.

Hunter was released from the Rutherford County Jail on a written promise to appear.

The Rutherford County Republican Party website had a statement stating the activities at the Board of Election office “are not supported or encouraged by the Rutherford County Republican Party Executive Committee. The Executive Committee condemns those activities and disavows any relationship with any individuals engaging in such activity.”