Alamance County’s board of elections has found nothing amiss about statements that its chairman made at a candidate forum last month – and which prompted a formal complaint from two of the runners up in this year’s race for Green Level’s town council.
The board ultimately voted 4-to-0 to reject the claims which Stephanie Long Enoch and Ida Kleiner had lodged against the election board’s chairman Dorothy Yarborough. They claimed that Yarborough’s remarks had boosted the campaign of write-in candidate Jose McBroom at the expense of their own bids for the council.
McBroom would go on to finish the race with 102 votes – enough to secure one of the two seats that were up for grabs on the council this year. The write-in candidate placed second only to Patricia Jones, who led the field with 136 votes,
and he narrowly edged out Enoch, who wound up in third place with 100 votes. Kleiner picked up 74 votes to place fourth in this six-way contest.
Jones, Enoch, and Kleiner’s names were on the printed ballot as Green Level town council candidates, as were the names of Doris S. Richmond and Erwin Taylor; they placed fifth and sixth among the candidates on election day. Neither participated in the protest against Yarborough.
In light of the slim, two-vote margin between the second and third place contenders, Enoch had asked the board of elections to conduct a recount, which took place last Tuesday without any change in the outcome of the council race in Green Level.
In the meantime, the board’s members held a preliminary hearing that same day about a variety of alleged improprieties that Kleiner and Enoch had formally challenged. In the end, the only claims that the board deemed worthy of additional attention involved Yarborough, who had consequently recused herself from the proceedings that afternoon.
Summary of the charges and election board members’ conclusions
The board of elections went on to reconvene in the county commissioners’ meeting chambers on Tuesday in order to hear the allegations that the two candidates had pressed against Yarborough.
One of these charges concerned some public statements that the board’s chairman had made during a candidate forum in Green Level’s town hall on October 14. According to her detractors, Yarborough had presented the forum’s audience with information about write-in votes that went beyond mere exposition and amounted to an endorsement of McBroom’s write-in campaign.
Enoch and Kleiner also accused the election board’s chairman of tipping the scales later that evening when she allegedly disparaged an endorsement letter that Kleiner had received from former Elon alderman Lawrence Slade.
The board of elections went on to conduct a trial-like review of these two allegations on Tuesday, which featured such forensic trappings as a sworn testimony from witnesses and a court reporter to record the proceedings for posterity.
As in any civil or criminal trial, the burden of proof was on the complainants to present evidence that Yarborough had violated state statutory requirements that forbid local elections officials from using their influence to benefit particular candidates. Moreover, they needed to demonstrate that the chairman’s alleged misconduct had affected the outcome of the election in Green Level.
Yarborough’s colleagues ultimately devoted four hours, including an ample lunch break, to their examination of the charges against her. Yet, in the final analysis, they saw nothing to compel them to void the results of the election or to bump the case against their chairman to the state level for potential disciplinary action.
“A majority of the witnesses stated that either she did not endorse someone or that she did not intend to endorse someone, and it didn’t have a profound effect on the [candidate forum].”
– Bryan Ray, one of two Republican members of the Alamance County Board of Elections
“For me, with the conflicting reports of what did or did not occur…there doesn’t seem to be substantial evidence of an irregularity or misconduct that impacted the election’s results.”
– Homer Ashby, one of three Democratic members of the Alamance County Board of Elections (one of two participating democratic members in the hearing on Yarborough’s role)
Bryan Ray, one of two Republicans who serve on the five-member board, summed up the prevailing mood about the first allegation – which accused Yarborough of giving McBroom’s write-in campaign an unfair boost during the candidate forum.
“A majority of the witnesses stated that either she did not endorse someone or that she did not intend to endorse someone,” Ray said before the 4-to-0 vote to toss this particular claim, “and it didn’t have a profound effect on the [candidate forum].”
Homer Ashby, a Democratic appointee like Yarborough to the bipartisan board, offered a rather similar assessment about the second charge regarding Kleiner’s endorsement letter.
“For me,” he said before another unanimous vote, “with the conflicting reports of what did or did not occur…there doesn’t seem to be substantial evidence of an irregularity or misconduct that impacted the election’s results.”
The road that led to Yarborough’s vindication was nevertheless a long and arduous one – with no shortage of obstacles to disorient the casual traveler. Along the way, the chairman’s critics presented their own recollections of Yarborough’s alleged improprieties, and they marshaled a number of witnesses, whose testimony didn’t always bolster their claims.
The unsuccessful candidates’ charges against Yarborough
The role of the lead prosecutor in the case against Yarborough was largely handled by Kleiner, who had served as Green Level’s municipal clerk before she signed up to run for the town council in July.
Kleiner assured the board of elections that she knew next to nothing about Yarborough prior to the candidate forum, which the two women attended along with about 30 other individuals. Kleiner added that her opinion of Yarborough took a nosedive that evening when the election board’s chairman allegedly weighed in on the procedures to cast a write-in vote in the election.
“As the candidates were introducing themselves. Jose McBroom was right next to me,” Kleiner recalled, “when they talked about the write-in that’s when Ms. Yarborough got up and interjected.”
“This is not about a personal vendetta. This is not about calling people out. This is about the law and the board of elections…This was a costly mistake because it appeared to be electioneering…[and] it’s going to be your obligation as the board to sift through the rubble and find out the truth.”
– Unsuccessful Green Level town council candidate Ida Kleiner, the fourth-place finisher and one of two challenging Yarborough’s conduct at the forum
Kleiner insisted that Yarborough had literally “spelled out” the write-in candidate’s name for the audience’s benefit due to the “many different names and variations” of Jose McBroom’s appellation. The town clerk-turned council hopeful added that this move on the part of the election board’s chairman smacked, to her, of an illegal endorsement.
“This is not about a personal vendetta,” Kleiner asserted. “This is not about calling people out. This is about the law and the board of elections…This was a costly mistake because it appeared to be electioneering…[and] it’s going to be your obligation as the board to sift through the rubble and find out the truth.”
Kleiner’s concerns were reiterated by Enoch, who would go on to lose the second available council seat to McBroom by a margin of two votes. Enoch insisted that Yarborough’s alleged misstep cannot be ignored because of the potential effect it may have on the public’s faith in the electoral process.
“When she spoke and talked about the [write-in] candidate. I knew this was something that was not supposed to happen…[and] I saw a few people raise their eyebrows. “Anybody can make a mistake. But sometimes when you make a mistake, you can’t continue to sweep things under the rug…This is not a Democratic thing; it is not a Republican thing; it is not an Independent thing. It is [about doing] the right thing.”
– Unsuccessful Green Level town council candidate Stephanie Long Enoch, the third-place finisher, edged out by two votes by McBroom’s write-in candidacy, and one of two candidates challenging Yarborough’s actions
“When she spoke and talked about the [write-in] candidate,” Enoch recalled, “I knew this was something that was not supposed to happen…[and] I saw a few people raise their eyebrows.
“Anybody can make a mistake,” she added. “But sometimes when you make a mistake, you can’t continue to sweep things under the rug…This is not a Democratic thing; it is not a Republican thing; it is not an Independent thing. It is [about doing] the right thing.”
Kleiner, meanwhile, provided the board with some additional things to consider from an exchange that reportedly took place immediately after the forum. The former town clerk recalled that she had tried to use the town’s photocopier to duplicate an endorsement letter that she had received from Elon’s former alderman Slade.
Kleiner said that she was ordered out of the room by current Green Level councilman Michael Trollinger, who did not seek re-election. In the meantime, she said that word of the endorsement letter reached Yarborough, who she said openly expressed doubt that the distinguished former alderman from Elon had endorsed Kleiner’s campaign.
“It was as the forum was breaking up and there were still a vast number of people in the room,” Kleiner recalled. “I don’t know who she intended [the comment] for. She just blurted it out.”
Kleiner and Enoch went on to present testimony from several witnesses who they hoped would shore up their recollections of Yarborough’s actions. Among the more unambiguously critical of these accounts were written affidavits from Enoch’s brother, Herman Long, and Kim Moser, a one-time write-in candidate for Green Level’s town council.
“When [Yarborough] spoke and talked about the [write-in] candidate, I knew this was something that was not supposed to happen…[and] I saw a few people raise their eyebrows.
– Herman Long, brother of third-place finisher Stephanie Long Enoch
In his affidavit, Long didn’t mince words about his own response to Yarborough’s alleged remarks about write-in voting during the forum.
“The question came up about how to fill out a ballot for write-in,” Long recalled in the affidavit, which Enoch read into the record. “The representative for Green Level town introduced Dorothy Yarborough…Ms. Yarborough then began to instruct the public how to fill out a write-in ballot using Jose McBroom as an example…When I heard this I felt as if she was endorsing this candidate for the open seat on the town council.”
“I ran for town council in 2019 as a write-in, [and] I was told by the board of elections that it was my responsibility to tell voters and pass out cards. I would have welcomed Ms. Yarborough’s assistance seeing as it helped Mr. McBroom win the election.”
– Kim Moser, unsuccessful 2019 write-in candidate for Green Level town council
Moser offered an equally stinging indictment of Yarborough in her affidavit, which was likewise read into the record on Tuesday.
“I ran for town council in 2019 as a write-in, [and] I was told by the board of elections that it was my responsibility to tell voters and pass out cards,” the unsuccessful candidate recalled in her submission. “I would have welcomed Ms. Yarborough’s assistance seeing as it helped Mr. McBroom win the election.”
The picture became much fuzzier, however, as the board of elections heard from some of the other witnesses who Enoch and Kleiner called up to testify on their behalf.
These witnesses included Enoch’s sister Phyllis Long Pinnix, who shared her first-hand recollections of Yarborough’s remarks about write-in votes at the forum. According to Pinnix, the board’s chairman merely “said that when you use a nickname, like Jose, we need to know who it is.”
“She said if you do a write-in candidate, if you use a nickname, we [need to] know who it is,” Pinnix later reiterated, “and she used Jose as an example.”
Even less helpful to Enoch and Kleiner’s case was Leon Staten, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to keep the peace in Green Level, who insisted that he makes it a point to remain
outside the town’s meeting chambers during political events like last month’s candidate forum.
Other witnesses include town clerk and town’s mayor
Meanwhile, Gabriella Camacho, who currently serves as Green Level’s town clerk, recalled that it was an inquiry from McBroom himself that prompted Yarborough to explain the procedures to vote for write-in candidates.
“What I remember is that she never directed the Jose part,” Camacho recalled. “[McBroom] wanted to know how people were going to write in his name…He asked about his nickname, and [Yarborough] said it was up to him how to present himself…She never told anybody in the public that you should vote for Jose or you should write Jose’s name in.”
Camacho’s recollections were echoed by Green Level’s mayor, Carissa Graves-Henry, who was one of several “interested or affected” parties that offered testimony on Tuesday after Enoch and Kleiner had called all of their witnesses.
Graves-Henry presented the board of elections with a letter that she and Camacho had drafted in Yarborough’s defense at the behest of her colleagues on Green Level’s town council.
“One of the candidates asked about the write-in procedures,” the town’s mayor stated as she read from the letter. “Dr. Yarborough answered him by telling him it was up to him to instruct potential voters how to write his name on the ballot. He said that people call him by his middle name. She told him if that’s what he wanted, it would be up to him to tell them that.
“I can attest to the fact that the information Dr. Yarborough [gave] was public information consistent with voter education,” Graves-Henry added as she continued to read from the text. “I can further attest that the information she presented was in no way an endorsement of any political party or individual candidate.
“I thought the information was much needed,” she continued with some extemporaneous remarks after she finished reading the letter. “Just clarifying spelling and such things was much needed.”
Graves-Henry added that she assumes McBroom won one of the available council seats by the dint of his own efforts – as she herself did when she was first elected to the council after a successful write-in campaign of her own.”
The mayor’s assertion was later borne out by McBroom, who also offered his testimony to the board of elections as another “interested” party. The newly-minted council member-elect read a written statement of his own into the record in which he acknowledged the confusion caused by his legal name Gerald Hosea, and his nickname “Jose” which is essentially just a truncated form of his middle name.
“I was allowed to ask Ms. Yarborough to clarify the write-in process [during the candidate forum],” McBroom went on to recall, “and she did so.
“I received 102 votes [in the election],” he added, “and there were fewer than 30 people, including my family members, who were at the candidates’ forum.”
By the time everyone else had said their piece, the board of elections allowed its embattled chairman to present her own account of last month’s candidate forum.
Yarborough’s defense of her comments
Yarborough insisted that she said nothing that evening which, even in retrospect, had the merest whiff of impropriety.
“A question did arise…to the town manager about write-in candidates,” she recalled. “I did not know the individual who asked the question. But I recall that he said ‘[how do I tell my family and friends how to put my name on the ballot,’ and I told him it is up to him to tell them.
“He told me ‘most people know me as Jose,’” she continued. “I told him that if that is what you want to use, that’s how you tell people to put it on the ballot…I did not endorse him and I did not spell his name.”
Yarborough was equally adamant that she said nothing improper about the aforementioned endorsement letter from former Elon alderman Slade. She doubled down on this point as Kleiner cross examined about the inconsistencies between her and Yarborough’s accounts of the incident.
“At no time did I dispute the letter,” the board’s chairman declared. “I had no interest in the letter…I certainly did not shout in a crowd ‘I want a copy of that letter; I don’t believe he signed that letter.”
Yarborough’s testimony about the endorsement letter was largely in line with what the board of elections had previously heard from Sean Ewing, a member of Mebane’s city council and an officer in the local Democratic Party who was also on hand for the candidate forum.
In the end, Yarborough’s colleagues on the board of elections insisted that Enoch and Kleiner had failed to meet the burden of proof that the state statutes demand of a formal challenge to an election. In separate votes, the bipartisan board went on to vote 4-to-0 to reject each of the pair’s claims against Yarborough.