TOP 10 stories of 2013 – No. 9: Incumbent unseated in Belhaven racePublished 12:01am Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Amid allegations of impropriety on the part of Belhaven poll workers and conflicts of interest for some election officials, Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem, Steve Carawan lost his long-held seat to political newcomer Tony Williams in Belhaven’s municipal elections.
At a dead tie of 228 to 228 in poll votes, an early voting tabulation put Williams ahead of Carawan 235 to 231 on election night. Provisional ballots had not yet been factored in.
Friday of the same week, Carawan responded by requesting a recount of the Beaufort County Board of Elections. For the East End Alderman race between Carawan and Williams, a recount was allowable because its outcome was determined by only four votes, less than one percent of total votes.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, after the Board of Elections’ canvass of votes cast in the election, the requested recount found that Williams won by two votes. Once the board determined Williams had won the election, Carawan wished Williams well during his term in office.
Throughout the situation, Carawan and Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal expressed concern over election-day events that they believed influenced the outcome of certain Belhaven races: alleged conflicts of interest and advice given by poll workers at the John A. Wilkinson Center. According to Carawan, a poll worked reminded voters of a write-in candidate for the unexpired East End Alderman seat vacated by Cindy Ross.
But according to Kellie Hopkins, elections director at the Beaufort County Board of Elections, inappropriate voter influence on the part of Belhaven poll workers was not substantiated. Karen Fisher’s campaign as a write-in candidate for the East End Alderman seat on the town board began the morning of the election, but it was the confusion surrounding the late run that led a new poll worker to mention Fisher’s name to several voters as a write-in candidate. Hopkins said the misunderstanding, regarding what a poll worker could and could not say to a voter, was almost immediately cleared up by other poll workers at the site.
On the day of the recount, Carawan addressed his concerns about Belhaven’s polling place, saying that irregularities and improper conduct by poll workers is common place there.
Former elections board member Delma Blinson advised Carawan to file a complaint with the state board, with supporting evidence, if it’s believed that improper conduct occurs at Belhaven’s polling place.