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Voting culminates but legal uncertainties remain
  • Updated

Turnout was steady at Wilkes County’s 27 polling places by press deadline Tuesday (Election Day) afternoon, with lines at a few locations when voting started.

When polls opened at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, a record 55.7% of Wilkes County’s 43,763 registered voters had already cast ballots. This included 20,111 in one-stop, early voting and at least 4,276 via absentee, by-mail ballots.

Nearly 62% of the state’s registered voters had already voted when polls opened. That’s more than 95% of all the N.C. voters who cast ballots in the general election of 2016.

In Wilkes County in 2016, there was a 39% early voting (one-stop and by-mail) turnout and a 73.27% turnout overall. Statewide in 2016, there was a 64% early voting turnout and a 68.98% turnout overall.

Post-election process

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, emphasized that all results reported on Election Day night are unofficial until post-election canvassing is completed.

Provisional ballots and absentee by-mail ballots arriving after Election Day are counted and added to the totals during this period. Ballots are deemed provisional when an individual’s name doesn’t appear on the poll book or other questions arise about that person’s eligibility to vote or to vote a particular ballot.

Every county must conduct sample hand-to-eye counts of ballots in randomly selected precincts and one-stop locations to confirm results tabulated by machine. This must be done in public.

The state board conducts additional audits. If a voter with a provisional ballot is eligible to vote in some contests on the ballot and not others, the eligible contests are counted.

The recount demand must be in writing and received by the state board no later than noon Nov. 17. If a recount is demanded, the state board office would issue a schedule, and the counties would conduct recounts individually during open meetings.

For contests under jurisdiction of county boards of elections, a demand for recount must be made in writing to the county board of elections by 5 p.m. Nov. 16.

The state board is scheduled to certify statewide results for all federal, statewide, multi-district and judicial contests at a public meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24. Results in each contest are not official until certified by the state board. After the state canvass, the board of elections with jurisdiction over each contest will issue a certificate of election to the prevailing candidate.

Legal challenges?

There is speculation on the likelihood of numerous challenges in court, depending on election results. In recent campaign stops, President Donald Trump said he is preparing to undertake legal challenges.

The most likely statewide legal challenge in North Carolina concerns absentee, by-mail ballots, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding lower court rulings allowing the N.C. Board of Elections to extend the acceptance period for absentee, by-mail ballots to nine days after Election Day instead of the three days called for by the legislature.

The issue now is whether the state board’s procedure allowing absentee, by-mail ballot voters to “cure” (correct) errors on their ballot return envelopes complies with state law.

In prior elections, the ballot was rejected and the voter had to cast another by-mail ballot or vote in person if required voter or witness information on the return envelope was missing. In North Carolina, by-mail voters must have a witness who must fill out part of the by-mail voter’s return envelope.

In August, Judge William Osteen of the federal Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the state needed a procedure for voters to “cure” errors on their return envelopes. The N.C. Board of Elections came up with such a procedure before ballots went out in September.

However, the state board expanded the types of errors that could be corrected before county boards of elections met to start processing completed by-mail ballots. This prompted the legal challenge by Republicans that ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

The question that remains is if the current cure process complies with state law? Osteen said he thinks not, but he stated in a court ruling Friday that it’s too late for him to intervene in this year’s election and that any challenge would have to come in state court.

Tim Wigginton, N.C. GOP press secretary, said the N.C. Republican Party will challenge ballots that don’t comply with law. There are about 5,176 contested absentee, by-mail ballots statewide in the election.

Legal challenges would begin with protests filed with county boards of elections before the canvass, or official certifying of county vote counts, at 11 a.m. Nov. 13. A protest must show substantial evidence of an irregularity and that the irregularity could affect the outcome of an election in that county.

Zeta's remnants cause major flooding in Wilkes
  • Updated

Remnants of Hurricane Zeta and low pressure combined to dump 4 to 5 inches of rain on most of Wilkes County late on the night of Oct. 28 and the next morning, resulting in unexpectedly severe flooding and evacuations.

Most of the rain fell within a few hours just before and after dawn Thursday, sending tributaries of the Yadkin and Reddies rivers out of their banks and over roads before mid-morning. This was accompanied by trees falling on power lines and into roads. Roads were also impacted by mudslides.

High waters reached North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro by mid-morning.

The Yadkin and Reddies rivers flooded a few businesses and threatened others along Wilkesboro Avenue in North Wilkesboro, just downstream from where the Reddies flows into the Yadkin. Moravian Creek did the same on School Street in Wilkesboro and on Wilkes Community College’s lower campus. Cub Creek flooded virtually all of Cub Creek Park, as well as the South Bridge Street bridge.

Employees and others worked to remove several vehicles from Extreme Collision body shop on Wilkesboro Avenue as the water level rose. A Champion Towing rollback tow truck assisted.

Floodwaters rose over a longer period than normal in the Wilkesboro Avenue area, cresting around 3:30 p.m. and receding equally slowly. Floodwaters never reached Midtown Plaza shopping center but they covered Memorial Park.

North Wilkesboro police and firefighters reopened Wilkesboro Avenue to traffic at 7:38 p.m. Thursday.

The Yadkin and Reddies rivers also flooded the Yadkin River Greenway at several points, leaving it covered in silt after receding.

Several residents of Rose Glen Manor, an assisted living facility on Independence Avenue in North Wilkesboro, were transported to a sister facility the afternoon of Oct. 29, said a Rose Glen spokesman.

Rose Glen Manor residents of rooms closest to the nearby Reddies River were taken by Wilkes Transportation Authority vans and other means to Rose Glen Village on Main Street, Wilkesboro, “out of an abundance of caution” as the Reddies water level increased, the spokesman added.

Employees of two nearby businesses stepped outside their workplaces, also as a precaution.

Evacuation in WilkesboroWilkesboro Fire Chief Jason Smithey had just sat down to eat lunch about 2:45 p.m. Oct. 29 when he was told Woodfield Way had a wash-out where it crosses Cub Creek via a culvert on the edge of town. Smithey learned that this caused water to start releasing from a 3 1/2-acre pond, about 100 feet upstream from the culvert, into Cub Creek and was making the water level of the creek rise again.

Concern arose about the possibility of the Industrial Park Road bridge over Cub Creek, less than a mile downstream from the washout on Woodfield Way, being flooded if the creek kept rising. This would leave residents of Cub Creek Apartments and employees of several industries on the west side of the bridge trapped since Industrial Park Road is a dead-end road.

Smithey said residents of Cub Creek Apartments, children at a nearby day care center and employees of industries west of the bridge were therefore told to evacuate. Some residents of Cub Creek Park walked to the other side of the bridge, less than a quarter of a mile away.

Smithey said people were allowed to start returning to Cub Creek Apartments, the day care center and their workplaces about 4:15 p.m. when it was established that Cub Creek’s water level was dropping. He said plans were being made to let people wait at the nearby Wilkes Agriculture Center if they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

On Fishing, Little Cub creeksSome of the worst flooding occurred early on the morning of Oct. 29 in the Broadway, Antioch and Moravian Falls communities. Longtime residents of these communities said they had never before seen flooding in some of the places where it occurred that morning. They said it was more severe in some other places than they had ever seen.

Fishing Creek washed out Fishing Creek Arbor Road at the point where it flows under the road via a culvert. A short distance downstream, Fishing Creek flooded an LP gas tank storage site belonging to AmeriGas Propane. Dozens of presumably empty LP storage gas tanks were washed downstream. What became of them wasn’t clear, but a nearby resident said he saw AmeriGas employees looking for the tanks.

The Broadway Fire Department responded to assist two motorists when their cars stalled in high waters the morning of Oct. 29. One was on N.C. 115 near the Speedway Road intersection and the other was on Speedway Road near the Fishing Creek Road intersection.

Floodwaters of Little Cub Creek covered Country Club Extension Road where it flows beneath the road and portions of Westover Street in Wilkesboro where it flows along the dead-end street near several homes. Storage buildings and a residence on Westover were flooded.

Moravian Creek flooded Germanton Road and Falls Road near the Moravian Falls waterfall.

The Yadkin River flooded bottomland and River Road near the Tyson Foods feed mill in Roaring River. This road was closed to traffic due to floodwaters until 5:30 p.m. Oct. 29. Red, White and Blue Road and Clingman Road were also closed for several hours.

The Yadkin River also left its banks on the other end of Wilkes in the Ferguson community.

The Middle Prong of the Reddies River flooded Colvard Road in the Wilbar community. The North Prong of Lewis Fork Creek and Little Creek left their banks in the Parsonsville community. Similar flooding occurred across the county.

It was announced early the morning of Oct. 29 that in anticipation of adverse weather, the Wilkes County schools and Wilkes Community College were closed for students. Flooding and wind damage was reported in some other area counties that day.

At 12:15 p.m. Oct. 29, about 1,770 Duke Energy customers in Wilkes were without electricity. They were mostly in the Moravian Falls, Brushy Mountain, Antioch, Broadway, Windy Gap, Purlear, Millers Creek and Champion communities.

Dam at minimum releaseTony Young, water management chief of the Wilmington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said late on the afternoon of Oct. 29 that W. Kerr Scott Dam’s two 5-ton gates were set to release the minimum volume of water all that day to help reduce flooding downstream.

“I saw how intense this (rain event) was this morning and first thing we throttled back” on the release of water, said Young, explaining that the release was reduced by 500 cubic feet per second the morning of Oct. 29.

W. Kerr Scott Reservoir had its normal water level of 1,030 feet above sea level on Oct. 28 but it was 1,044 by 9 p.m. Oct. 29. Young said the dam gates would be opened Oct. 30 to release water at a higher rate.

Wilkes pandemic death total is 41 with 3 reported Monday
  • Updated

The Wilkes County Health Department reported the COVID-19-related deaths of three Wilkes residents Monday, bringing the county’s pandemic mortality total to 41.

Two of the three, one in his/her 70s and one in his/her 60s, died Monday. The other person, in his/her 80s, died Saturday.

All three died from complications associated with the virus in Wilkes County but not all at Wilkes Medical Center, said Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard. The youngest and oldest of the three had underlying health conditions, she said.

To protect the privacy of families of COVID-19 patients, the health department doesn’t tell gender or release any additional information about the patients.

“This unfortunate situation is a reminder that we should continue to be vigilant and not let our guard down, especially as we head into flu season. Please practice the 3 Ws (wait, wash, and wear) when outside your home,” said Willard.

Wilkes had more COVID-19-related deaths than any adjoining county as of Monday. Totals for the adjoining counties then were Iredell, 34; Surry, 33; Caldwell, 19; Alexander, 10; Yadkin, nine; Ashe, three; and Alleghany, one.

By Monday, 1,887 Wilkes residents had been confirmed as having COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. The health department reported that Wilkes had 139 active COVID-19 cases, including four hospitalized, by then.

The 1,887 cases included 469 in the two weeks ending Monday. Willard said the majority of those 469 cases resulted from community spread.

Statewide, the seven-day average of new cases per day surged late last week after the state had its three highest new case counts on consecutive days. It fell from a record high 2,370 new cases on Sunday to 2,327 on Monday.

Among Wilkes County’s 1,887 total cases, 52% were male and 48% female. Thirty-eight% of them were ages 25-49, 22% ages 50-64, 11% ages 18-24, 11% infant to 17, 10% ages 65-74 and 9% 75 and older.

WCC Student Government Association officers elected

WCC SGA officers (copy)

Plans detailed for townhomes in Wilkesboro

The Wilkesboro Town Council gave the green light Monday for 10 townhomes to be built in the downtown next year by Finley Properties LLC at 100 Court Square, the old Wilkes jail site behind the Wilkes Heritage Museum.

The council conveyed the site to Finley Properties for $100,000 and stipulated that the developer invest a minimum of $1 million in the project. The contract also states that the developer must obtain a building permit in nine months, break ground on the project by 12 months and complete the townhomes in 18 months.

The developer, Cam Finley, told the council on Monday, “I’d like to start in early spring and within a year of today I’d like for them to be complete.”

Finley continued, “For years we’ve heard there’s a certain need for housing in our communities. We feel like there’s a market and a housing study shows there’s a pent-up demand for certain types of housing, townhomes being one of them. We plan on embarking on a few developments that will satisfy those needs.”

Finley said he couldn’t think of a better location for townhomes than downtown Wilkesboro, “especially with all the fine work you’ve done in this area. Connecting (the downtown) to the (Yadkin River) Greenway is huge—we think this is a fabulous location.”

The two-story units feature three bedrooms and 2.5 baths, and are 1,800 square feet with double garages. Seven of the units would face North Bridge Street and three would face Harding Hill Street.

Finley indicated the units would be individually sold with deeds, unlike with condominiums. “I don’t think we’ll pre-sell them before breaking ground. It’s not a big enough project for that; we’ll be fine.”

He called it an “upper end project; maybe not quite as upper end as the condos we attempted a couple of years ago. But we feel good about the market and look forward to putting a quality project or two or three right here in the town, this being the first one.”

Finley’s plans for building 18 luxury condominium units on the same site, each priced between $355,000 and $405,000, were cancelled in April 2019 due to at least half of the units not pre-selling.

Each townhome will be sold for less than $300,000, Finley indicated. “We’re putting in really good appliances; these are not cheap units. One way we can offer these affordably is because we’re doing them in quantity.”

The new project is a joint venture between Finley Properties and Nest Homes, Finley said. “Nest has done hundreds of units in Iredell County and north Mecklenburg (County) and they’re really fine units. When I went in them, I liked them.”

Finley said he also plans to develop the nearby Bank of America site (200 Main Street) into eight townhomes, describing them as “a little higher grade, with master bedrooms downstairs. You’ll see (a presentation on) it next month.”

The only comment during the public hearing was made by local businessman Seth Cohn. “I applaud Finley Properties for this. I’m happy to see this coming to the downtown. As chair of the downtown merchants association, I can say we’re excited to be a partner with you.”