Election protest dismissed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 4, 2008

GATESVILLE – Dismissed.

After listening to over two hours of testimony and then spending nearly an equal amount of time in deliberation here Monday afternoon, the three-member Gates County Board of Elections unanimously dismissed a protest filed by Earl Rountree in the wake of the May 6 Primary.

Rountree placed second in a three-man race for the District 4 Board of Commissioners seat. His protest was lodged against Henry Jordan, who earned the Democratic nomination in the Primary by a 152-vote margin.

The protest was dual in nature as Rountree contended that Jordan’s wife, employed at T.S. Cooper School (which doubles as Precinct 4 South during elections) had unfair access to the voting place and that proponents of Mr. Jordan repeatedly violated the 50-foot buffer zone at Precinct 3 (Gates Fire Department) which protected the voting place from unauthorized campaigning.

Rountree called three witnesses, including his wife, to testify they each saw poll workers on Jordan’s behalf soliciting votes inside the 50-foot barrier. Those witnesses said they also heard the poll workers verbally say Jordan’s name as voters approached the entrance of Precinct 3.

He also summoned Gates County Board of Elections Director Virginia Moore to the stand to verify that a 50-foot barrier is used as a buffer area at the polling places and that all candidates were issued documents upon filing for office making them aware of such a regulation.

While he did not have to offer any testimony since the burden of proof fell on Rountree, Jordan did choose to respond to the allegations. He said he did not ask anyone to work the polls for him during the Primary and was not aware of anyone performing such a task on their own accord.

“In the One-Stop (early) voting process, I led Mr. Rountree 223-to-97, so I feel my strategy (of getting out in the county and placing his campaign cards in high traffic areas before the election) was working,” Jordan said. “I didn’t feel it was necessary to use poll workers on the day of the election.”

In regards to the allegations made against his wife, Jordan called it “frivolous and unfounded.” His wife testified that she arrived at 7:30 a.m. for work at T.S. Cooper School on May 6 and entered the building at an area away from the polling place. She said since it was the “payroll period,” she worked in her office until 2 p.m. and then went to lunch. She testified she never entered or had contact with anyone in the polling place.

Chuck Brothers, who placed third in the three-man District 4 Commissioners race, said he worked all of the county’s polling places on May 6 and “did not see anything that should declare this election null and void.”

“I urge you to ratify Mr. Jordan as the winner of the District 4 Commissioners race,” Brothers added.

In closing, Rountree said he felt the people working the polling place on Jordan’s behalf, whether or not they were doing so with or without his knowledge, had an influence on the election’s outcome. He maintains there was inappropriate behavior demonstrated by poll workers at Precinct 3 on Jordan’s behalf.

After deliberating for just over two hours, Board of Elections members James H. Sears (chairman), Joan Russell and Watson Lawrence, based on the foregoing findings of fact and conclusions of law, unanimously ordered the following:

Candidate Jordan’s motion to dismiss candidates Rountree’s protest as being untimely or improperly filed is denied.

That portion of candidate Rountree’s protest concerning Mrs. Jordan’s conduct is dismissed.

That portion of candidate Rountree’s protest dealing with irregularities in campaigning within the 50 foot buffer zone is dismissed.

A copy of this decision shall promptly be forwarded to the State Board of Elections and the District Attorney for the First Judicial District for investigation of a violation of the election of this state.

This Board shall consider with greatest diligence taking future measures such as providing additional staff, further candidate instruction, staff training and more comprehensive monitoring of elections sites, so as to prevent as similar occurrence.

In regards to the last order, the board did state there was substantial evidence, which they find as fact, to the effect multiple individuals, during the course of the election day, violated

buffer zone prohibitions by campaigning for candidate Jordan as described in the protest by candidate Rountree. This took place at Precincts 1 & 3. However, there was no evidence, substantial or otherwise, as to who these individuals were and whether they were successful in affecting the outcome of this election.