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Protest appeal may move forward in Tyrrell election

Joey Elliott said that a state board of elections official June 18 acknowledged receipt of his appeal from the county board of elections’ May 25 finding of no probable cause on his protest of the Tyrrell County sheriff’s race results.

The state board official also stated that the county’s report of the probable cause hearing had not been received as of Monday morning, June 18, Elliott said.

Elliott mailed his appeal to the state board the first time on May 30, the same day he filed a copy with Debbie Swain, Tyrrell elections director, he stated.

“We can’t immediately locate an appeal from Joey Elliott here at the State Board office,” Patrick Gannon wrote in an email to this reporter late Friday, June 15. Gannon is public information officer for the state board of elections.

Elliott trailed Kevin Sawyer 360 to 247 in the May 8 primary, while Nathan McPeak garnered 208 votes. Because Sawyer’s plurality was greater than 40 percent, he was declared to be the party candidate.

His appeal asks the state board of elections to disqualify Sawyer from the May 8 election for violating two state election laws and “that the runner up [Elliott] be declared the winner of said election.”

Elliott contends in his appeal documents that Sawyer did not comply with state law regarding abandonment of his first domicile in Washington County and acquisition of a new domicile in Tyrrell County at least one year before the May 8 primary. Elliott states that Sawyer intended to return to the Washington County residence if he did not win the election.

He contends that Sawyer used his Deweys Pier Road address in Tyrrell County “as a convenience.” Elliott states, “I do not believe Mr. Sawyer resided at this residence one year prior to the said [May 8] election.”

Elliott also complained to the state board that neither he nor the other candidates for sheriff were “afforded the opportunity to present any evidence nor was anyone at the probable cause hearing allowed to ask questions or comment. There was no discussion among the board members present. I feel there was no due process at the probable cause hearing for either candidates.”

Tyrrell elections board chairman Cecil Lilley convened the probable cause hearing on May 25. Board members Debbie Huth and Inetta Knight were also present, along with county attorney David Clegg and elections director Debbie Swain. Board member Buddy Swain was absent.

Elliott, McPeak, Sawyer, some family members of the candidates, Sheriff Darryl Liverman, and a newspaper reporter were seated in the audience section.

Lilley announced at the outset that only board members and the attorney would be recognized to speak.

The board reviewed Elliott’s 33-page protest, without comment or discussion, and found it was in proper form and timely filed. A motion that probable cause be found to fully investigate Elliott’s charges against Sawyer failed on a vote of 1-2. A motion that probable cause was not found passed by the same margin, and Lilley adjourned the 20-minute proceeding. The board gave no reason for its decision.

When they filed for sheriff in the Democratic primary, each of the three aspirants pledged not to run as a write-in candidate for sheriff in the November 6 general election if he lost the primary. No Republican or unaffiliated candidates emerged, so Sawyer’s win is tantamount to election in November.

The Constitution Party was recognized by the state board of elections in early June and given the right to nominate candidates for the November 6 general election.

Elliott said on June 16 that he has not switched his party affiliation to the Constitution Party and will not be a candidate for sheriff under that banner in November.

Gov. Roy Cooper on June 15 vetoed Senate Bill 486, which would have prohibited Elliott from running in November on the Constitution Party ticket.

The bill provides that “An individual whose name appeared on the ballot in a primary election preliminary to the general election shall not be eligible to have that individual’s name placed on the general election ballot as a candidate for the new political party for the same office in that year.”

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