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Election roundup

A group of political veterans and their supporters carried elections for Summerfield mayor and Town Council in Tuesday’s elections.

Former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes was elected mayor with 60% of the vote over political newcomer Danny Nelson, who got 39% of complete but unofficial vote totals.

The group that aligned itself with Barnes, called Summerfield Proud, also swept the election.

Incumbents John O’Day and Reece Walker were re-elected along with associate Lynne Williams DeVaney also winning one of three open council terms.

Former Mayor Tim Sessoms won the election for the remaining two years of an unexpired term.

Barnes was hoping to become mayor of his long-time hometown while lifelong resident Nelson had hoped to begin his political career by winning the high office.

Nelson was part of a group of political newcomers who challenged Barnes, O’Day, Walker, Sessoms and DeVaney.

With only one precinct reporting, Barnes and the group he supported were leading the newcomers, but the numbers were too low to make a final call on the election.

Barnes’ group, called Summerfield Proud, and Nelson’s group, called Voices for Summerfield, both cast the election as a battle that would shape the town’s future.

All 10 candidates running in Tuesday’s town elections promised to restore civility and efficiency to a town government that has had a tumultuous two years.

The Town Council has been wracked by short tempers, clashes with town staff and the loss of one member after he was ruled ineligible to vote in Summerfield because he did not live there during a crucial period in 2018.

Summerfield, in northwest Guilford County, faces major issues in the coming years that include how to approach long-term development pressures and what to do about the Summerfield Fire District’s growing need for water in a town that depends on individual wells.

Four out of five council seats and the mayor’s seat were on the ballot in this year’s nonpartisan election.

The term for mayor is two years. Three of the council seats have four-year terms and one council seat will cover the two years remaining in an unexpired four-year term.

Zoning, and the town’s future growth, remains at the top of the issues this season. All of the candidates say they support commercial development only in the busiest corridors of town near U.S. 220 and Interstate 73.

In most of the town, houses must be on minimum 60,000-square-foot lots, which is nearly 1.4 acres. Some areas of central Summerfield have two houses per acre and zoning officials planning future ordinances have discussed allowing that density in 300 to 600 acres in the town core.

Both groups said they don’t support concentrated commercial and residential development in the rural town of 11,000 — an issue that’s been the cause of much strife for the last two years.

But Rogers’ Voices for Summerfield group said the political veterans and their supporters are beholden to special interest groups and developers.

The late election returns, inconclusive more than two hours after the polls closed, were emblematic of a chaotic two years in which the town saw arguments during town meetings and one member barred from serving after the county Board of Elections ruled he was not a Summerfield resident.

In another election of note, High Point’s incumbent Mayor Jay Wagner won re-election over challenger Carlvena Foster, who is a Guilford County Commissioner. With 33 of 36 precincts reporting, Wagner won 51% of the vote to Foster’s 48.%.

Guilford tests new voting system

HIGH POINT — The voters of Precinct H27-B took their status in stride Tuesday as guinea pigs for Guilford County’s new, slightly retro-style voting system.

No one said their socks were blown away by Guilford’s return to the hand-marked ballot after years of touchscreen computer voting in the precinct headquartered at Deep River Friends Meeting on West Wendover Avenue.

But neither did anyone register a serious complaint.

“It was fine. I don’t think I have any real preference,” said Sam Escue after using the new, old-fashioned system to vote in High Point’s municipal elections.

Voter Karen Bartlett had a lukewarm response, saying she had no complaints about filling out the printed, multiple-choice ballot in ink.

“But at the same time, you wonder how secure is paper and will it make any difference,” she said.

The county Board of Elections opted in a split decision last month to go with the new system of hand-marked balloting to comply with a state law that takes effect by year’s end. The law requires voting machines with paper ballots so a clear record exists to help prevent election fraud.

Guilford has used touchscreen voting terminals for years as part of a system that does not meet the new law’s specifications.

Local officials eschewed other touchscreen alternatives that employ paper ballots because a majority of board members said they believe a hand-marked system — one where voters fill out their ballots in ink — is more foolproof and inspires greater public confidence in election outcomes.

The Guilford board chose the DS200 system from Election Systems & Software Inc., which uses computerized equipment only at the end of the process to scan and count votes.

But before completing such a purchase, state law allows local officials to test a new system at a single precinct in an actual election.

County elections director Charlie Collicutt said he chose H27-B as the test precinct for a variety of reasons, including a location that would be easy for election administrators in both Greensboro and High Point to reach in case something went wrong.

Paul Dodge, the precinct chief for H27-B, said things went smoothly Tuesday, although there was light turnout at a polling place that serves about 2,000 registered voters.

Dodge saw advantages with the new system.

“What I see so far is that it takes less time to vote,” said Dodge, who has worked at the precinct for about six years. “I think three minutes is the longest I’ve seen anybody take to mark a ballot. Then it’s like 15 seconds to feed it into the machine.”

By late morning, 49 voters had cast ballots at the precinct. Two hours later, the tally had only risen to 69.

Dodge said he initially expected a daylong total just shy of 250 voters, but he lowered his guesstimate to the mid-120s after such sparse turnout through midday.

Even so, Dodge said he could envision the system working well in a presidential election with much heavier turnout.

The precinct had a maximum of three touchscreen terminals previously, so only three people could vote at the same time under that system, he said.

With the new system, the number of voters filling out ballots at the same time was limited only by the half-dozen “privacy enclosures” on site Tuesday, each providing a sheltered spot for a voter to fill out the printed form in secrecy.

When done, voters took their ballots to the computerized tabulator and fed them into the machine.

Dodge said the new system contains multiple checks and balances to assure accuracy.

The tabulator records all votes on a USB flash drive for computer counting. But each paper ballot also is carefully preserved inside the tabulator, Dodge said, and the machine prints out a pair of identical reports at day’s end showing every vote cast.

Dodge estimated that among voters who expressed a preference, sentiment ran about 35-to-1 in favor of the new system.

Happy campers liked the new system’s speed and the ability to see the whole ballot at once as opposed to the touchscreen’s one-page-at-a-time scenario, he said.

One person reported liking the touchscreen better because it allowed voters to review their ballots before the computer digested it, Dodge said.

The new system does not permit that after the ballot has been inserted into the tabulator. Instead, the tabulator simply reports, “Ballot accepted,” Dodge said.

An interesting article inside today's newspaper

Seeing red: Laser pointers already had a reputation for being troublesome. Now, it has been discovered they can hack smart devices. Page B1

New grant could bring dental services to eight Guilford County elementary schools

GREENSBORO — First- and second-graders in eight Guilford County elementaries could soon get dental checkups at their schools, thanks to a new grant won by the Guilford County Health Department.

Guilford County received $65,000 in funding this fall to prepare for the effort. Beyond checkups, the department wants to work up to providing other needed care in the schools, such as sealants and fillings.

“If children are hurting, they cannot focus,” said, Dr. Cheneta MacDonald, the dental director for the health department.

Poor oral health in children is “associated with increased shyness, feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness, and reduced friendliness,” according to the health department. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children, The Duke Endowment reports.

The county was one of 12 organizations in the Carolinas to receive funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation.

The county expects to be able to apply for and receive additional grant money from The Duke Endowment for the effort.

MacDonald said they would like to start offering the services this spring or next fall. The department doesn’t want to disrupt end-of-the-year academic testing, she said.

This initiative aims to help students who are not otherwise getting dental services. The department is considering partnering with four Greensboro schools and four in High Point, she said.

The county health department has two dental clinics that serve children, but simply getting there can be a challenge for some families.

“There are a lot of children where the parents are not able to take off from work and bring them in, or, of course, if they take off, they are missing money,” she said.

MacDonald said she is excited about the equipment the county hopes to purchase with the grant, including a portable dentist chair and a portable compressor to provide air and water. If they secure additional grant money, they’d like to add a second chair and portable X-ray.

Already, MacDonald said, the health department has one dental hygienist who travels to Guilford County Schools to offer dental screenings for kindergartners, but she does not have that kind of equipment.

For now, MacDonald said, there’s a lot of planning and communication work to be done, figuring out details such as permission forms. So she and other grantees are participating in monthly conference calls and getting advice from the Duke Endowment on how to avoid possible pitfalls as they help students.

“There are three dentists at the health department, so we will all have the opportunity to be out in the community in schools,” she said.

North Carolina legislators starting process of redrawing the state’s current congressional map

RALEIGH — Pressed by a court ruling last week over partisan gerrymandering, North Carolina legislators began on Tuesday to produce a new state congressional map that could make it more difficult for national Republicans to retake control of the U.S. House.

A special House-Senate committee met for the first time and set rules for proposed replacement boundaries that the full legislature could vote upon as soon as next week, when it officially reconvenes. A key legislator warned the process will be more complicated than when the GOP-controlled General Assembly redrew several dozen legislative districts just two months ago.

On Oct. 28, a state judicial panel blocked use of the state’s 13 U.S. House districts for the 2020 elections by determining it was likely the voters who sued to overturn the 2016 map alleging excessive partisan bias favoring Republicans would win their case. The GOP currently holds 10 of the 13 seats in the state’s congressional delegation, even though North Carolina is considered a presidential battleground entering 2020 and regularly holds close statewide elections.

The same judges struck down state House and Senate districts in early September by agreeing with similar arguments that political gerrymandering violated the North Carolina Constitution.

While the judges wrote in their preliminary injunction that it lacked authority at the time to order the legislature to draw new congressional districts, they suggested the General Assembly could redraw them on their own now and avoid delaying the congressional election calendar.

Candidate filing for all 2020 races begin Dec. 2, and the State Board of Elections has said congressional primaries could still occur March 3 as scheduled if a replacement map is finalized by Dec. 15.

“The court respectfully urges the General Assembly to adopt an expeditious process,” the judges wrote last week.

The legislature worked at lightning speed in September to redraw nearly 80 of their 170 legislative districts in barely over a week, following the judges’ criteria such as ignoring political data and election results and to improving district compactness when able.

The court has provided no such specific criteria for the congressional remap. But committee members agreed Tuesday that it made sense to mimic much of what it followed during the legislative remap. For example, live video of the committee meetings again will be online, as will the displays of the computer terminals where any mapmaking will be performed.

The committee also agreed that those computers would contain neither elections results — a key element in determining a district’s partisan slant — nor racial information about voters. The committee will decide later this week whether they want to use a previously drawn map to serve as the base plan for their work, or create a new map from scratch.

Mitchell County Republican Sen. Ralph Hise, a committee co-chairman, said drawing a congressional map will include additional challenges. For example, each of the 13 districts must have exactly or almost exactly the same number of residents.

Based on the 2010 census figures, that’s 733,499 people per districts. Legal rulings, allow for more flexibility in General Assembly district populations.