Judge rules candidates can run
Missed filing deadline for November ballot created a slim field for Selma elections
By PEGGY LIM, Staff Writer
SMITHFIELD -- It can be tough finding candidates to run for office in small towns.
"It takes a special person" to volunteer for a job akin to a "migraine headache," Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins said.
That's why, Jenkins said, he sided with the town of Selma on Monday in allowing mayoral candidate Charles Hester and Town Council hopeful Tommy Holmes onto the November ballot.
Hester, Holmes and another would-be council candidate, Jim Earp, filed in Selma's Town Hall before noon Aug. 5, the last day of filing. A town staff member delivered the filings to the county Board of Elections office in Smithfield after 4 p.m.
The deadline was noon. Following state law, the elections office declared the filings invalid.
Earp quickly withdrew his application. But Selma officials, including Mayor Harry Blackley and the entire Town Council, fought to get Hester and Holmes in the race. Without Hester and Holmes, the mayor would run unopposed, and only three candidates would vie for two seats on the Town Council.
Jenkins agreed that the county Board of Elections had no legal authority to reverse its decision. But he agreed with Town Attorney Alan "Chip" Hewett that if the court did not step in, Selma would be deprived of two candidates who were "ready, willing and able to run for political office" but would be kept off the ballot through no fault of their own.
Jenkins also delivered a brief homily on the importance of local officials, noting that they ensure residents have running water, maintained streets and adequate police protection.
Hewett, who thanked the judge for his decision, said the situation was unlikely to arise again.
Prompted by the Selma mishap, the county's Board of Elections voted Aug. 16 that future municipal candidates can file their paperwork only at the board's office, not their individual town halls.
"It eliminates this problem that was set up for failure," Hewett said.
Allowing municipal candidates to file in their town halls is a "dying" practice, said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections.
Before the 1970s, many local municipalities ran their own elections, Bartlett said. "There were conflicts of interests where a municipality was running elections and the government at the same time," he said.
Nowadays, only about four municipal election offices remain in the state, he said. Responsibility has shifted almost entirely to county offices, which can hire full-time staff dedicated to elections.
Hester and Holmes, who were not present at the hearing, said they were pleased with the judge's decision. Holmes, a retired service station owner, is excited to get his campaign rolling. Hester, however, said the delay has cut into his bid for mayor.
"I've lost a little momentum," said Hester, owner of a real estate company.
He plans to decide in day or so if he's got what it takes to stay in the race.
Staff writer Peggy Lim can be reached at 836-5799 or firstname.lastname@example.org.