RALEIGH — On Monday morning, a bipartisan group of Rockingham County political candidates, alleging the county's board of elections is not adequately staffed to handle a "fair and trusted" election, asked state officials to take immediate control of the office.
The move comes six days after the county elections board voted 4-1 to oust senior deputy director Amy Simpson from the already short-staffed office.
The vote came after a closed session during which the matter was discussed. Board Chairman Royce Richardson, who cast the lone dissenting vote, would not discuss the reason other members gave for Simpson's dismissal, citing personnel privacy law.
But six of the county's Democratic candidates and one Libertarian are calling into the question the legality of the move to fire Simpson, a Democrat and former interim county register of deeds from March through December 2016.
The hand-delivered letter to the North Carolina State Board of Elections reads: "This letter serves as notice of our request for the NC State Board of Elections to take over the operations of the Rockingham County Board of Elections immediately. We ask that the NC State Board of Elections provide oversight and ensure that competent, experienced and qualified people will manage the office and the upcoming election. This is critical in order to provide for a fair and trusted election. We have lost trust in the current board to do so.''
The letter was signed by: Amanda Bell, Democratic candidate for N.C. House District 65; Wally White, Democratic candidate for N.C. Senate District 30; Kelli Boyte Jones, Democratic candidate for Rockingham County Register of Deeds; Ann Brady and Jeff Johnson, both Democratic candidates for the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners; Ophelia P. Wright, Democratic candidate for the Rockingham County Board of Education, District 2; and R. Michael Jordan, Libertarian candidate for the school board's District 3.
The candidates go on to explain how the move to terminate Simpson leaves an already-skeletal staff crippled less than two weeks before early voting begins on Oct. 15.
The local office lost its director Tina Cardwell when she retired in April. With Simpson's departure, a single deputy director, hired in June, remains.
And tasks are mounting as nearly 5,000 absentee ballot requests have already come in, officials said last week.
Even with Simpson in place, the office had to supplement staff with six to 10 temporary workers daily, officials said.
"As of today, the (county) Board has chosen NOT to hire a replacement (for director Cardwell),'' the letter to the state board said. "In fact, it was their decision to have the Senior Deputy Director do the job without a promotion or hire an additional third staff member during the election period.''
The candidates write that they have lost faith in their board.
" ... It is unclear as to whether or not the (county) Board acted within their legal authority to do so,'' candidates wrote of the vote to dismiss Simpson.
"In any event, recent decisions made by the Board have left Rockingham County inexperienced and unprepared to deliver election results that can be trusted,'' the letter said.
State Board of Elections officials and county board members were not immediately available for comment.
Contact Susie C. Spear at firstname.lastname@example.org, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.