The Montgomery County Board of Elections decided today that members of the Montgomery family should not have voted in the Nov. 5 Mount Gilead municipal election, and their residence just outside of the town limit excludes them from participating in future town elections.
The board convened a hearing this morning to reconsider challenges filed on election day by Marsha Russell. Russell’s contention was that Milton Montgomery, Clinton Maurice Montgomery and Ronnie Michael Montgomery had cast votes in the Mount Gilead election, but that they are ineligible to do so because they actually live outside the town limit.
A hearing was held Nov. 12, and the Board of Elections decided at that time to include the three votes in the official totals. But Russell and others say they were not notified, so the Board of Elections later set aside that decision and scheduled today’s hearing to reconsider the matter.
Marsha Russell and Mount Gilead Town Manager Katrina Tatum presented evidence including tax maps and water bill listings they said shows the Montgomerys live outside of the town limit. Russell explained that was her primary objective.
“That’s our main focus here, that they are not in the town limit and, therefore, should not have voted,” said Russell.
Citizen Leon Turner, speaking for the Montgomerys, presented evidence he said shows that the Montgomerys’ address is inside the town limit, and that their mother, Hazel Montgomery, had voted in a Mount Gilead precinct as far back as 1970. Turner said he wanted to help the Montgomerys clear their name against any claims of voter fraud.
Turner said, “I don’t know who to hold responsible, but I know those guys have not committed a crime of any sort.”
In response, Russell explained that it was not her intent to point a finger at the Montgomerys.
She added, “Nobody has accused these people of .. voter fraud. I truly believe they didn’t know.”
Citizen Jones Almond, husband of Mount Gilead Mayor Patty Almond, was sworn in and restated his belief that the Montgomerys did not willfully commit any fraud. He named a number of sources available for determining residency and his belief that the responsibility for clarifying voter eligibility rests in the town manager’s office.
“Responsibility of verifying – not just approving, but verifying – that list that comes from the county Board of Elections to any town, is the responsibility of the manager of that town,” Almond stated.
In deciding to sustain the challenges and find the Montgomerys ineligible for Mount Gilead municipal elections, Board of Elections member Darrell Latham said he does not believe the Montgomerys set out to do anything wrong. Board chair Deanne Greene-Brown agreed that the Montgomerys did not “openly commit voter fraud”, but also concluded, based on the evidence provided today, that their residence is outside the town limit.
“They will not be registered voters in the Town of Mount Gilead,” said Greene-Brown. “They will be able to vote in county and state elections, but not in Mount Gilead.”
Board member Rosemary Huntley, who earlier in the hearing had a brief heated exchange with Mount Gilead Town Manager Katrina Tatum, cautioned those present against misinterpreting the meaning of today’s decision.
“It’s not an ‘I win’ or ‘you lost’ situation,” said Huntley. “It’s just a situation to where we get this straight.”