Hopkins outlines frantic elections

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Staff Writer

There has been a contentious second primary involving two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, the introduction of an unaffiliated candidate to the Beaufort County commissioners’ race — and now there’s the possibility of an “instant runoff” to replace N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Jim Wynn.
Add to the mix Republican county commissioner candidate Cindy Baldwin’s withdrawal from the field, and it becomes obvious Kellie Harris Hopkins is having an interesting year.
Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, helped Bertie Arnhols endure a lengthy education process as Arnhols petitioned to be placed on the ballot as an unaffiliated commissioner candidate.
If Arnhols’ candidacy wasn’t a first in county history, it was unique in Hopkins’ experience, and the immediate results were calls to the State Board of Elections seeking advice and consultation of state election law.
Later, Hopkins and her staff had their skills tested again when former state Sen. Cal Cunningham went up against the ultimately victorious N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the June 22 second primary.
The two Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls inspired dismally low turnout at the polls, but elections officials had to prepare for the possibility of 100-percent turnout just the same.
Then Hopkins had to advise the Beaufort County Republican Party of its options when Baldwin withdrew before an election-related deadline, leaving open the question of whether the party should replace her on the ballot. (Ultimately, the party’s answer to that question was “No.”)
Hopkins acknowledged this election year has featured more than its share of anomalies, while admitting her work is about to get even more interesting.
“I have yet to have an election that goes without some kind of hitch,” she said. “Not really a hitch, but something that goes a little bit differently.”
One reason local elections officials are anticipating further obstacles has everything to do with Wynn’s elevation from the state Court of Appeals to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wynn’s placement with the higher court leaves a vacancy on the state Appeals Court, making a statewide special filing period a necessity, according to Hopkins.
If more than two people file candidacies to replace Wynn, the judge’s successor likely will be chosen by means of an “instant runoff,” in which voters will rank their top three candidates in order of preference, Hopkins said.
The instant runoff will take place concurrent with the Nov. 2 general election, she said.
Confused yet? Some voters might be.
This election method has never been used in Beaufort County, Hopkins explained.
“So, this will be a learning curve for us,” she said. “It will also be a learning curve for the voters.”
And, it seems, county-level developments just keep coming.
Mary Gurley of Aurora has filed campaign-finance paperwork officially declaring her challenge to E.C. Peed, the incumbent seeking re-election to the Beaufort County Board of Education as its District 2 representative. Gurley filed her paperwork Friday, confirmed Anita Bullock Branch, deputy elections director.
Gurley’s entrance in the nonpartisan race means every school-board candidate up for election this year is locked in a contested race.