Judge sides with Selma
By JORDAN COOKE, STAFF REPORTER
Smithfield -- Selma leaders breathed a sigh of relief Monday after a judge backed their bid to add two names to the November ballot.
In a civil complaint against the Johnston County Board of Elections, Selma argued that a mistake on its part should not keep Charles Hester and Tommy Holmes from running for office. The Board of Elections had thrown out their filings when the town failed to deliver the paperwork by the noon Aug. 5 deadline.
Although Hester and Holmes both filed at Selma's Town Hall before the deadline, their paperwork did not arrive in the elections office in Smithfield until 4 p.m.
Earlier this month, the Board of Elections denied the town's request to add Hester and Holmes to the November ballot. Election officials said they did not have the power to overturn state law.
That put the matter in the hands of Superior Court Judge Knox V. Jenkins. "This is clearly an adversarial situation," the judge said from the bench on Monday. "But I understand that both parties are interested in the welfare of Selma's citizens. I'm not here to assess blame. This is not your typical situation where someone stands to gain while the other loses."
Jenkins said the law was clear: last-minute filings are due by noon on the last day. "But by the same token, the Board [of Elections] does authorize the town to receive filings at a different location," he noted.
That makes Selma an extension of the elections office, Jenkins said. "The town acts as an agent to the board to receive filings," he said. "The applications were filed at the Board of Elections when they were filed in Selma."
Jenkins commended county election officials for upholding the law. But the judge also acknowledged a concession by the Board of Elections that a judge "had jurisdiction under extraordinary circumstances to extend extraordinary relief." "I believe extraordinary relief is in order here," he said.
In court, Selma Town Attorney Alan "Chip" Hewitt cited cases from other states in which judges ruled in favor of the candidates -- provided the candidates were not at fault.
"The last thing we want to do is get into an adversarial situation with the Board of Elections," he said. "But we also know that it's hard to find people who are willing to serve."
Reacting to the news, Tommy Holmes, a candidate for one of two council seats in Selma, said he was elated. "I really think he has done the right thing," Holmes said of Jenkins.
Charles Hester, who filed to run against incumbent Mayor Harry Blackley, echoed Holmes' sentiment. "I'm glad he ruled the way he did," Hester said. "It exonerates the town. I had been worried about the town being accused of something or thought of in the wrong way. I had thought all along it was just an administrative error, but this confirms it."
Gordon Woodruff, chairman of the Board of Elections, was also pleased with Jenkins' ruling. "I'm glad that the judge recognized that the Board of Elections and the town of Selma were both working in good faith," he said. "We're not in an adversarial situation with each other over this." "It was a very unusual case, and the judge took that into account with his ruling," Woodruff added. "I'm happy to have this resolved. It makes it clear now what we need to do to get the ballot ready. We'll move forward from here in light of Judge Jenkins' decision."
But in an ironic twist, Selma's ballot could change again. Hester said Monday that time spent waiting for a decision in the election dispute had led him to rethink running for office. "I'm not considering this to knock down the system that stood up for us," he said. "But I've just begun to have some second thoughts about things. There's a chance I might pull out of the race. I'll make my decision in the next few days."
Herald Staff Reporter Jordan Cooke can be reached at 934-2176, Ext. 133, or by e-mail at email@example.com.