Residency challenge dismissed
BY AMELIA HARPER
Friday, November 8, 2019
TARBORO — The Edgecombe County Board of Elections met Thursday to hold two preliminary protest hearings about the residency of former mayoral candidate Bronson Williams and unanimously voted to dismiss both protests, denying the chance for further evidence to be presented in either case.
The protests were filed in October during the runoff election when Williams was running against Sandy Roberson for mayor of Rocky Mount. Joyce Arnette Jones, who lives in Ward 5 of Rocky Mount in Nash County, filed the two protests with the Edgecombe County Board of Elections. Both protests are related to Williams’ residency.
“Unfortunately, the hearings went just the way I thought they would go,” Jones said in an interview Thursday night. “This was decided before the preliminary protest hearing was even held.”
Williams registered to vote in Edgecombe County, citing 1611 Hargrove St. in Edgecombe County as his address. He also filed to run for mayor in Edgecombe County and listed the same address, despite the fact the home appears to be abandoned.
In a video Williams produced during the campaign, he stated that he currently is living with his parents at another location while the house at 1611 Hargrove St. is undergoing renovations. There is no electricity in the home and no building permits have been filed for the home, according to city records.
The preliminary protest hearings held Thursday did not allow for anyone to speak or present evidence other than that attached to the protest documents. The purpose of the preliminary protest hearings was simply to determine if the board found probable cause to hold an actual protest hearing where statements and further evidence could be heard.
In the first protest the elections board considered, Jones stated that the residency issues made him ineligible to run for mayor because Williams filed to run for mayor in Edgecombe County. Instead of living on Hargrove Street in Edgecombe County, Jones said in the protest that Williams lives on Pinefield Drive in Nash County.
Edgecombe County Attorney Michael Peters was at the preliminary protest hearing on Thursday and read the State Board of Elections definition of residency to the board.
“A legal voting residence is ‘your place of permanent domicile,’” Peters said. “That place shall be considered the residence of a person in which that person’s habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever that person is absent, that person has the intention of returning.”
Peters also clarified the issue by citing other case law on the issue.
“There is case law that says if someone has abandoned their home, they have a present intention of making the new place their home and they have no intention presently of leaving the place they are currently, then that new place is their residence,” Peters said. “The person’s intent does matter, but it is just one consideration among other factors.”
Peters also told board members to only consider the evidence presented in the protest and to ignore information from outside sources for the purpose of the preliminary protest hearing.
Edgecombe County Board of Elections Chairwoman Florence Armstrong said she was convinced of Williams’ claim on the form.
“He put down 1611 Hargrove St. on his candidacy form and that is the information we need to deal with,” Armstrong said. “I know he is because he is the third vice chairman for the Democratic Party.”
Board members repeatedly kept asking county Elections Director Jerry Spruell if Williams was a registered voter and what address he had placed on his voter registration form.
“When Mr. Williams filed and signed the information for his candidacy form, my staff was required to verify what was his voter registration,” Spruell said. “And the only way we can verify this is to go to our system, look in there and see how they are registered. We verified that he was registered in Edgecombe County and put down that he lived on Hargrove Street. We don’t go out to verify anyone’s residence.”
Board members considered that sufficient information to dismiss the protest.
“We know he is registered in Edgecombe County at this address,” board member Carol Bland said. “The only thing present that disagrees with that is the actual use of the building. From what we read, it is intent, and we don’t know that because we don’t have a person here to ask.”
In the second protest Jones stated, “My protest is that he (Bronson Williams) should have never been on the ballot. The address he gave at the voter registration is an abandoned house. Has had no upkeep. It is in his father’s name. The tax office shows no taxes paid since 2017. There has been no electric service there since Jan. 20, 2017, per the City of Rocky Mount utilities. Mr. Williams claims he was making improvements at the home. The city shows no building permits issued at that address.”
Jones attached documents supporting these claims with her protest.
After this decision, board members dealt more quickly with the second protest, making a decision in less than five minutes.
The main question asked of Spruell at this time was the same as before: “Is he a registered voter in Edgecombe County?” The answer again was yes.
The board voted unanimously to dismiss this protest as well.
Jones, who was present at the hearing, said she is frustrated by the way the issue was handled.
“They didn’t look at the facts I presented that he didn’t live at the residence. They didn’t even consider that. They totally ignored all the evidence. I had the facts there that he did not live there,” Jones said. “I think they did not want it to go to hearing because it would be proven that he didn’t live there. He has said himself that he is not living there now. To allow him to register at that address when he does not live there is a lie.”
According to N.C. General Statue 163-275(4), “Any person who shall, in connection with any primary, general or special election held in this state, do any of the acts or things declared in this section to be unlawful, shall be guilty of a Class I felony. It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to swear falsely with respect to any matter pertaining to any primary or election.”
Jones said she has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision to the State Board of Elections.