By Stan Welch
As the special election to fill the Williamston Town Council Ward Two seat approaches, a mishmash of election laws has created some confusion over the residency requirements to be eligible for the seat.
Mike Looper is running for that seat, after having lost a bid for the Ward Three seat during the recent election. Mack Durham, who held the Ward Two seat, was elected Mayor, vacating the position and spurring the special election. Looper, who represented Ward Three until Otis Scott defeated him, has lived in Ward Three for years and also owns a home in Ward Two which has been under renovation which has been completed. There is some confusion as to whether he is eligible to run for the seat.
The confusion exists in the main because the town has no pertinent ordinance governing its own elections. Under the current ordinance, there is no specified residency requirement . As a result, town clerk Michelle Starnes consulted with county and state officials to see what their ordinances said.
According to Starnes, the county calls for a single day’s residence in a district prior to the election; that would seem to be a requirement that Looper has, or could, easily meet. Starnes says, however, that town attorney Richard Thompson has told her that the candidate has to be registered to vote in the election, which must be achieved thirty days prior to the election.
Further clouding the issue, yet simplifying it at the same time, is the fact that Williamston elections are at large. Everyone in town can vote in any municipal election. In other words, Wards Four, Three and One voters can also vote for the Ward Two candidates. Since Looper is already registered to vote, the thirty day requirement seems to be moot.
Despite the muddled and confused circumstances, there is no real issue in Looper’s candidacy. The special election will be held Tuesday, Apr. 2. Candidates are Looper and Rockey Burgess.