On Tuesday, Nov. 21, the Guilford County Board of Elections held a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not there was “probable cause” to move forward on an election challenge brought by long-time Summerfield Town Councilmember Reece Walker against candidate Heath Clay – who are each contending for the third and final open seat on the council.
As it stands right now – after all the provisional and lingering mail-in ballots were counted – Clay maintained a 7-vote lead. That lead has shrunk from the 12-vote lead Clay held on election night, but it’s still enough to win him the seat if the Guilford County Board of Elections doesn’t decide the case in Walker’s favor after hearing the evidence.
Walker brought two charges to the Guilford County Board of Elections, one of which was dismissed by the board – but there was one the board determined had enough possible merit to warrant a full hearing.
The first very obscure complaint regarded a failure in the late 1990s of the Town of Summerfield to correctly implement the legal ability to count absentee ballots in elections. However, the town has always counted absentee ballots despite that apparent administrative oversight a quarter of a century ago – so the county’s elections board voted unanimously not to move forward on that protest.
The board decided that an “ancient lapse of timing” really didn’t have any effect on the outcome of the 2023 election.
However, the board did find enough cause in Walker’s other complaint to schedule a full hearing for Friday, Dec. 1 at 9 a.m. to listen to witness testimony, read affidavits, hear arguments and ask questions. Walker charges that, among other things, former Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham was campaigning for Clay too close to polling places in violation of election law. The complaint also stated that she provided snacks to voters, possibly in an attempt to sway their votes.
Walker argues that her actions could have swung the vote margin from his potential victory to the seven-vote lead for Clay.
If the county elections board finds in Walker’s favor, the case would be sent to the NC State Board of Elections and that board could call for a new election to fill the seat.
Guilford County Election Director Charlie Collicutt said after the hearing that a new election in Summerfield to fill the third open seat would have to be held at the time of another set election; so, in this case, that would be in March of next year when the 2024 primary election will take place.
In the Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023 election, the two Summerfield Town Council seats that were settled for sure went to Lynne Williams DeVaney, who got 1,516 votes, and Jonathan Hamilton, who got 1,316 votes. Both finished well ahead of Clay and Walker, who had 1,265 and 1,253 votes respectively at the end of Election Day.