Wednesday, August 10, 2022

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Longtime staff member steps up to the plate as new elections director

Political campaigns are often likened to horse races. But to Dawn Hurdle, an 18-year veteran of the local elections office, the charged anticipation and building excitement of the electoral process have more in common with a game of baseball than anything on display at Churchill Downs.

Lately, Hurdle’s time in the electoral diamond has been particularly tense thanks to her appointment as the county’s new elections director on January 1. Although Hurdle had long served as a deputy to the previous director Kathy Holland, she admits that the stakes have never felt higher since she was catapulted to the head of the batting order.

“Right now,” she said in an interview this week, “it feels like we’re in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and two strikes, and the bases are loaded.”

This crucial moment at bat has nevertheless been a long time in coming for Hurdle, who followed a somewhat unconventional path to reach her current position.

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A native of Burlington, the county’s future elections director initially passed up the lure of a professional career in order to raise the son and daughter she had with her husband William.

It wasn’t until her son’s senior year in high school that Hurdle decided to return to the workforce – which, after a brief turn in the insurance industry, led to a job at the county’s elections office in 2006.

Like her arrival at the elections office, Hurdle’s recent promotion comes in the lead-up to a much-anticipated mid-term election. In this case, however, the usual stresses of the upcoming vote have been compounded by a number of other distractions.

Among other things, Hurdle and her staff have had to contend with the fallout from a fractious redistricting battle. This squabble over legislative and congressional districts ultimately prompted the state supreme court to halt candidate registration on December 8 – two days into the two-week registration period for this year’s elections. Since then, a lower court has given the all-clear for candidate registration to resume this coming Thursday.

In the midst of the chaos over candidate registration, the county’s elections staff has also been struggling with a space shortage caused by the abrupt sale of an old pharmacy building that the county had previously leased for the elections office’s use. At one point, this defunct drug store in Burlington was envisioned as a possible new home for the elections office to replace its current, cramped quarters along South Maple Street in Graham. That plan ultimately fell apart over the summer when the county’s higher-ups learned that another buyer had already emerged for the former pharmacy building.

The county’s administrators have since been exploring the purchase of a former bank building along South Main Street in Graham to serve as a potential new headquarters for the elections office. This deal was nevertheless thrown into limbo last week when the county’s board of commissioners balked at the property’s proposed sale price as well as the cost to repair and remodel the building.

According to Sherry Hook, one of the county’s assistant managers, the misgivings of the county’s governing board have been overcome in the week and a half since the commissioners voiced their concerns.

“We were excited to be able to get the seller to reduce the price by $70,000 to the appraised value of $925,000,” Hook said on Wednesday. “We are hoping that we are going to be able to close on that building by early March.”

Throughout the upheaval over this sale, Hurdle recalls that the county’s administrators have urged her not to lose any sleep over the elections office’s new digs.

“‘Not to worry’ is what they tell me,” she said. “But my job is to worry about how we get things done and how we get our supplies for elections together…Right now, we have about five different locations where we are storing supplies, and we’re just trying to organize everything.”

Hurdle conceded that, with all the commotion over her staff’s accommodations, she has barely had time to attend to her own relocation to the office reserved for the county’s elections director. For the time being, she still works from the repurposed teller window, which served as her professional haunt as the county’s deputy elections director.

But Hurdle’s unhurriedness to take over her predecessor’s quarters may actually have worked out for the best.

Although Kathy Holland officially retired from her position at the end of December, the county’s former elections director has agreed to help out around the elections office in the capacity of a consultant. In deference to her continued presence, Holland’s old office still houses many of her personal mementos – which, as of Tuesday afternoon, even included a vase of roses that her husband had dropped off for Valentine’s Day.

Current elections board chairman Dorothy Yarborough; Dawn Hurdle, who had been designated by the local board as Holland’s successor and is now, in fact, the new elections director; and outgoing director Kathy Holland at a surprise retirement party in December.

Holland is emphatic, however, that her lingering role at the elections office should not be construed as a judgment on her successor’s abilities.

“I have complete confidence in Dawn,” the former elections director insisted on Tuesday. “She’s going to do a wonderful job. She brings a lot of experience to the position, and they couldn’t have picked a better person.”

Hurdle asserts that she has every intention of living up to Holland’s high expectations. She notes that she has reached at a point in her life when she has both the time and freedom to devote herself fully to the director’s position.

The newly-minted elections director acknowledges that whatever spare time she has is generally given over to her husband, her adult children Dustin and Casey, and her three grandchildren.

Hurdle also admits to a passion for baking and a relatively newfound fascination with quilting. In the meantime, she has become a rather practiced spectator of sports – and particularly baseball, in which her son Dustin excelled as a student.

So, it may be no surprise that Hurdle turns to America’s pastime to inspire her in her new role in this nation’s other great preoccupation – the business of voting.
“Never let the fear of striking out,” she said, “keep you from playing the game.”

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