Dem Senate hopeful's residency challenged
By Jon Hawley
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
A Currituck County voter is challenging Richard James' qualifications to run for the state Senate seat in newly drawn District 1, claiming the Democratic candidate is not a district resident.
Donna Steigelman, of Aydlett, filed the residency challenge against James on March 12, alleging that James resides in Chapel Hill, not Winton in Hertford County. Steigleman filed her complaint with the N.C. State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
If the allegations in Steigelman’s complaint are correct, James would live in Senate District 23, not Senate District 1. The N.C. Constitution requires candidates for state legislative office to reside in the districts they want to represent.
James could not be reached for comment Tuesday on Steigelman’s complaint.
James, vice president of Alfiniti, an aluminum tube manufacturing company in Winton, filed as a Democratic candidate for the open Senate District 1 seat last month. Also filing for the seat were Washington County Commissioner Cole Phelps, a fellow Democrat, and two Republicans: state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, and Clark Twiddy, a businessman from Dare County.
James is currently scheduled to face off against Phelps in the Democratic primary on May 8 and the winner will square off against the Steinburg-Twiddy primary winner in the November general election.
Steigelman, a Democrat, said in an interview Tuesday she became concerned about James’ residency after a visit N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin made to Jarvisburg on March 6. Steigelman said James was on hand for Goodwin’s visit, and she heard concerns afterward that the Senate candidate seemed unfamiliar with the area.
Steigelman said she also noticed that the address James listed for his voter registration didn’t appear to be for a house. The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement's website shows James registered as a voter in Hertford County on Oct. 12, 2017, and listed his address as 600 Metcalf St., Winton. That's in Hertford, but it's the address of his aluminum tube manufacturing company, Alfiniti.
Steigelman said she stopped by Alfiniti to ask to speak to James, but could not get in touch with him. An employee confirmed he doesn't live inside the business, she said.
Steigelman’s complaint states that James' actual address is 265 Lystra Estates Drive, Chapel Hill. Her complaint also includes a Chatham County property report listing him as co-owning that property with his spouse, Linda.
The Hertford County Register of Deeds and geographic information systems offices found no record Tuesday of James owning property in the county. He could be a renter and still have valid residency, however.
Steigelman said she doesn't know James and doesn't have anything against him. However, she said she's concerned that he could “mess up” the Democratic primary by becoming the nominee despite not living in the district. The campaigns of Steinburg or Twiddy “would be all over that” and use it against him, she said.
Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said in an email Tuesday that Steigelman's challenge will need to be heard by a panel of election board members from the counties in Senate District 1. State law requires such panels for residency challenges involving offices that are “multicounty but less than the entire state.”
Gannon noted that Gov. Roy Cooper last week appointed members to the state board, who should then appoint new members to county election boards. The state board has been in limbo until now due to Cooper’s challenge of Republican lawmakers' restructuring of the board.
Previously the board had a majority of members of the governor’s party. Following a law passed by state lawmakers, however, the board now has nine members. Cooper appointed four Democrats and four Republicans to the panel last week. Those eight members, who are expected to meet for the first time on Wednesday morning, are expected to start the process of selecting two nominees for the ninth seat on the board, Gannon said. The board will send the two nominees to Cooper, one of whom he’ll select to be the board’s ninth member, Gannon said. Both nominees must not be a member of a political party.
That state law also provides that Steigelman's challenge be scheduled a hearing within five business days of its filing. The multi-county panel is also supposed to render a decision within 20 business days of the challenge being filed.
While the panel may not meet that statutory requirement, election officials are working to resolve the challenge quickly, based on a letter Steigelman shared from Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Apologizing for the delay, Lawson wrote Steigelman that “staff will recommend to the board that they take action as soon as practicable to empanel” county board members to hear her residency challenge against James.