et’s begin with this stipulation: There could have been confusion during the recent Fairmont municipal election, but that occurrence does not mean there was a malicious and deliberate attempt by election officials or Mayor Charles Kemp to depress the vote or manipulate an outcome.
Kemp, whose integrity has been publicly challenged by Terry Evans, an unsuccessful candidate for election who has asked for a do-over, defends himself in an op-ed piece that will be published on this page in the coming days, so we encourage you to read that for his side of the story.
Meanwhile, the state Board of Elections will make the decision on whether there will be another vote in Fairmont, which would come at a cost of about $8,000 to $10,000. The three-member county Board of Elections on Monday forwarded the matter to the state, with two members saying that there were “irregularities,” and the board chairman saying that the vote margin makes the matter moot.
The problem has occurred because Fairmont was the venue of a single-day shoot for the movie “Arthur Newman, Golf Pro” on the same day of the election, a date picked by the movie producers, and not Kemp. On that day, not too far from the Hector McLean Public Library, the polling site for Precinct 2 voters, film scenes were shot, creating the need for a police presence and barricades.
Evans argues that the confusion turned some people away, and is backed up to some degree by Dock Locklear, the director of the county Board of Elections, who visited the Fairmont polling site that day. Kemp says no, he was there for pretty much all of the day, and he saw no one denied an opportunity to vote.
Complicating the matter — and the reason malice has been charged — is that there was a Fairmont town board agenda and newsletter that suggested the polling sites would be consolidated on Nov. 8, with Precinct 1 and 2 voters all casting ballots at the fire hall. But that is easily explained: At the time, a request had been sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, whose approval was needed for the consolidation, and that department did not get back to our local Board of Elections until Nov. 9, the day after the election.
The merit of Evans’ protest is bolstered by numbers, which are hard and cold. About 30 percent fewer people cast ballots in the Nov. 8 election than the average turnout for the four previous municipal elections. And although the Elections Board chairman might disagree, a more robust turnout might have made a difference for Evans, who was 29 votes short of taking a seat on the Fairmont board.
We will not offer an opinion on whether the state Board of Elections should call for another vote, but will trust its decision, which will be make in Raleigh, unencumbered by local politics. But we should all remember there is nothing more fundamental to a working democracy than the right to vote, and the concept of one person, one vote, is not disposable. That makes Evans’ fight worthy, regardless of the pending decision by the state Board of Elections.