Published 9:46 am Tuesday, January 19, 2016

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Board of Elections has ordered a new election for the Town of Ahoskie’s Ward B seat that was contested in November’s municipal election, which later ended in a protest filed by one of the two candidates.

The ruling, reached Friday by the State Board, found that current Ward B Councilman Maurice Vann was in violation of the residency laws that govern an election that is contested within a defined district or territory. Ahoskie’s Town Council is comprised of two representatives each from Ward A and Ward B, with the railroad tracks near the center of town serving roughly as the dividing line. The Council’s fifth seat is voted “at large” (meaning the candidate can reside in either Ward).

The new election will be held as part of the March 15 Primary. Ward B residents seeking to file have only two days to do so: Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Thursday, Jan. 21 at the Hertford County Board of Elections office, located at 700 North King Street in Winton. That office is open from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

As part of the state’s ruling, Vann is disqualified from filing as a Ward B candidate.

However, Vann did file on Dec. 11 for the District 2 Hertford County Commissioner seat currently held by Ronald Gatling. That election is also part of the March 15 Primary.

Friday’s ruling came after Donald Kirkland filed an appeal with the State Elections Board. Kirkland, who was handily defeated by Vann in last November’s municipal election, initially protested on Oct. 29 (just five days prior to the Nov. 3 election) to the Hertford County Board of Elections, claiming that Vann resided in Ward A and not Ward B.

Despite learning that Vann did indeed reside at 317 Maple Street, which is in Ward A, the Hertford County Board of Elections dismissed Kirkland’s protest. That three-member board ruled there was no sustainable evidence as to any violation of the law, a decision that prompted Kirkland to file an appeal with the State Board of Elections.

Although the paperwork on file with the Hertford County Board of Elections office showed Vann’s address as 222 Malibu Drive, which is in Ward B, Kirkland alleged that Vann’s residence was at 317 Maple Street, which is in Ward A.

In his protest, Kirkland alleged that Vann “falsely used his parent’s address (222 Malibu Drive) as his physical residence” and that the board should “void his eligibility to Ahoskie Town Council Ward B.”

In response to Kirkland’s claims, Vann stated that he did indeed rent a home at 317 Maple Street (where he lives with his wife and child), which is located adjacent to his place of employment (Reynolds Funeral Home) where he is on-call and works unscheduled hours.

Citing North Carolina General Statute 163-57(9a), Vann said the law allows for a residence outside of a domiciled area.

Don Wright, General Counsel for the North Carolina Board of Elections, clarified that Statute.

“A person may have an actual abode (residence) in one place, and his permanent established home (domicile) in another,” Wright wrote. “A domicile is the place to which the person intends to return. The law requires all persons to have only one domicile for voting purposes.”

Vann informed the local Board of Elections that he has never abandoned his domicile at 222 Malibu Drive.

“My lifelong domicile is 222 Malibu Drive, which is my family home, and to which I have always maintained an intent to return,” Vann told the local Elections Board. “I possess the key and have unfettered access (to 222 Malibu Drive). At both properties I maintain a bedroom, house my personal property, and receive official mail. My voter registration has always been 222 Malibu Drive and I have never had a reason to change it.”

Additionally, Vann stated that he had rented the home on Maple Street since 2001.

In response to the local board’s decision, Kirkland said they misinterpreted NCGS 163-57(9a).

“That statute applies to those elected at the state and federal level; they have a domicile within their district from which they are elected and then have a secondary or temporary home in either Raleigh or Washington, D.C from where they carry out their duties of the elected office,” Kirkland claimed. “NCGS 160-59(a) is the applicable statute in this case. It states that a city/town council member must reside in the district which they are representing. That’s especially true in cases where cities or towns elect representation by district, which we do here in Ahoskie.”

On Monday, Kirkland told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that he will file for the Ward B seat when that new process begins on Wednesday.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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