Unaffiliated candidates speak on controversial decision made by Forsyth County Board of Elections

Unaffiliated candidates speak on controversial decision made by Forsyth County Board of Elections
August 26
14:30 2020

For the first time since it was determined that their names will not appear on the ballot in November, the three candidates looking to run for seats on the Winston-Salem City Council – Paula McCoy, Michael Banner, and Tony Burton – came together early this week to discuss the petition process and how they plan to move forward with their campaigns.

McCoy, Banner, and Burton were all trying to run as unaffiliated candidates, which means to appear on the ballot they must get a certain number of signatures from registered voters in the Ward they are looking to represent. But last week Tim Tsujii, director of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, informed all three candidates that they didn’t have enough valid signatures.

McCoy, who is the former executive director of Northwest Child Development Corporation and Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods (NBN), is looking to run for the seat in the Northeast Ward and was originally told that she had enough signatures to appear on the ballot, but all that changed earlier this month. Just minutes before the deadline on Aug. 5, McCoy received word that at least three of her signatures came from people who don’t live in the Northeast Ward.

According to Tsujii, the software used by the board of elections to verify the signatures didn’t have the capability to determine in which ward someone lived, but they didn’t know that at the time. During the board of elections meeting last week, Tsujii said after rechecking all of the signatures, it was determined that McCoy only turned in 265 valid signatures. To appear on the ballot she needed 281.

When discussing the signatures and her dealings with the board of elections during The Chronicle Live on Aug. 24, McCoy said she was told that she was only one name short of the 281 needed to appear on the ballot and asked if she could have time to get a valid signature. Although she was told ‘Yes,’ McCoy said when she submitted the name to the county attorney, she was told that the rules had changed.

“I was informed that the rules had changed. I now had 15 days in order to recertify all of my petitions,” McCoy said. 

Banner and Burton both needed 301 signatures to appear on the ballot. Banner, a local activist and urban farmer, said he already had more than 600 signatures when he was told about the rule change. After going back and checking Banner’s petitions, his number of valid signatures dropped to 243. “They said due to this technicality, they were going to have to also go back and check my signatures,” Banner continued. “The whole time I was under the impression that I was done. I was really a victim of a circumstance.” 

Burton, who currently serves as the human resources manager for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, said he submitted 542 signatures but only 209 were valid according to the board of elections. All three candidates said they had dozens of signatures removed because the signature on the petition didn’t match the signature on their registration form. 

Although the Forsyth County Board of Elections has admitted to errors on their part concerning the petition process, there is no appeal process in place and so there is no recourse for McCoy, Banner, or Burton, but they were told they can make the push as a write-in candidate. Several elected officials including Forsyth County Commissioner Fleming El-Amin have encouraged the community to demand recourse by reaching out to his colleagues on the board of commissioners. 

El-Amin, who served on the local board of elections for several years before being appointed to the board of commissioners in 2017 after the death of Walter Marshall, wrote, “Since the local BOE made the error using the wrong software, they should have extended the time for all petitioners to be given additional time to submit additional names. They should not have relied on the State to direct actions.”

McCoy, who has vowed to have the most aggressive write-in campaign we’ve seen, said her biggest issue with the whole process is that the candidates are being punished for something that wasn’t their fault. 

“The sad part about this is that this board of elections has taken no responsibility for this when this was no fault of ours,” she said. “This was their fault. This was their faulty equipment, their faulty software … For some reason it wasn’t on the right setting is what they said. Someone should have known about this beforehand and we should’ve been informed, but should not have been penalized for somebody else’s mistake.” 

To view the open discussion with Paula McCoy, Michael Banner, and Tony Burton in its entirety, visit “The Chronicle” on Facebook and go to the video tab.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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