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Voters begin casting ballots for May 8 primary

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Kathy Pugh (standing) checks in with election workers as she prepares to vote in Pasquotank County on Thursday. Voters across the region are deciding in the primary election who will be the final candidates for numerous offices appearing on ballots in this fall's general election.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Voters started casting ballots for the May 8 primary on Thursday, as they begin to select the Democratic and Republican standard-bearers in the general election this fall.

The top races on regional ballots are contested only on the Republican side, where 3rd Congressional District Rep. Walter Jones, of Farmville, faces two challengers and two Republicans are vying for the state Senate in District 1.

Democrats have fielded no challenger for the 3rd District and only Cole Phelps, a Washington County commissioner, is a valid Democratic candidate. Democrat Richard James still appears on ballots, but he’s been disqualified from serving because he doesn't live in the district.

Local races are also front and center for many voters, particularly in Pasquotank and Currituck counties where numerous candidates are vying to replace retiring sheriffs.

Pasquotank resident Jim Kaighn said he voted for sheriff’s Lt. Brent McKecuen, one of four Democratic candidates for sheriff. The others are sheriff's Sgt. Todd Wagner, sheriff's Deputy Tobie McPherson, and Elizabeth City Police Department Sgt. Eddie Graham. Two Republicans are also vying in their party’s primary: sheriff's Lt. Bill Ward and Sgt. Tommy Wooten.

Kaighn said he didn't know the other candidates well, but he's known McKecuen since the candidate was a kid. McKecuen has done well for the community over the years, Kaighn said, adding it also carried weight with him that Sheriff Randy Cartwright, who is retiring, has endorsed McKecuen.

Kaighn also said he voted for Phelps in the Democratic primary, though he didn't know him well, nor did he know James was an invalid candidate.

Kaighn also said he voted “yes” on the quarter-cent sales tax referendum appearing on Pasquotank ballots. County commissioners are asking for the third time in six years for voters to authorize the additional sales tax, which would raise the sales tax rate from 6.75 percent to 7 percent, generating about $1 million they've pledged to use for public schools.

“I voted yes — as long as it's used properly” for schools, Kaighn said. He said he felt teacher raises, facility repairs, and buying students “unbiased textbooks” should be priority investments.

Clevie Meads, a self-described “die-hard Democrat,” said he voted against the quarter-cent sales tax, however. He said he doesn’t trust commissioners to use the money for schools as promised, noting that state lawmakers years ago “lied” about how money from the NC Education Lottery would be used.

Matthew Jarvis, president of the Elizabeth City State University chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also voted a Democratic ballot on Thursday. Though declining to say who he voted for, he said it's important to elect progressive candidates ready to work with a new generation of voters.

He voted against the quarter-cent sales tax, explaining he feels local and state taxes are already too burdensome.

In Currituck where the only contested races on the ballot are between Republican candidates, Johnny Messina, a retired newspaper photographer, said he voted for Chief Deputy Matt Beickert for sheriff, Kevin McCord for at-large commissioner, Fred Whiteman for District 5 commissioner, Steinburg in the Senate District 1 race and Bobby Hanig in the state House District 6 race. 

Messina said he voted for Beickert for sheriff because he believes the Currituck Sheriff's Office has been well managed by outgoing Sheriff Susan Johnson. He noted Beickert is Johnson’s chief deputy. He believes Beickert is a Christian and family man, he said.

Messina voted for McCord because he knows him and believes him to be honest. He voted for Whiteman “because he's new” and “is out of the box” and also a military veteran.

He voted for Steinburg because he believes the House member to be “a true Christian” and “a true conservative” who stands up for his convictions.

Messina said he voted for Hanig because he's both a local and self-made guy, as well as a fresh face.

“He's very articulate – and he's just got a really, really good personality,” Messina said.

Marty Elliott, a retiree from the U.S. Small Business Administration, said he voted for Beickert, Steinburg and Hanig, and for incumbent at-large Commissioner Mike Hall.

Elliott said people recommended Beickert to him for sheriff. He said it was also his understanding Beickert has been in law enforcement a long time.

Elliott said he recalled speaking with Hanig at a fundraising dinner at a volunteer fire department. He recalled Hanig being receptive about what he had to say.

Elliot believes if Hanig is elected to the Legislature, he’ll favor passage of what's called “the lady bird deed,” which gives an owner continued control over their property until death. Then after death, the property is transferred automatically to new owners without the need for proving a will.

Elliott said he also spoke to Hall outside the fish dinner. “I think he's pro-business,” Elliott recalled.

In the race for U.S. Congress in the 3rd District, Elliott said voted for challenger Scott Dacey over incumbent U.S. Rep. Walter Jones. He said the nation needs to support President Trump more on getting businesses back on track.

Pasquotank sheriff's candidates and their supporters were also out in force Thursday, where they greeted voters and tried to sway the undecided.

“I'm glad to see it get started,” Ward said of early voting.

His closing argument to voters is that he's the most senior — and therefore most knowledgeable and experienced — candidate for sheriff. Fighting opioid abuse and seeking more mental health resources for the region are top priorities, he said.

Wooten similarly said opioid abuse is a major priority for him, as is school safety. However, he reiterated he wants to strengthen the sheriff's department's community involvement.

Graham — who said he was Thursday’s first voter — said he felt good about the start of early voting. As a city police officer, he said he's the only candidate who can bring outside perspective to the sheriff’s office.

Wagner and McKecuen themselves weren't at the polls midday. McKecuen supporter Eddie Spencer said the candidate was attending a funeral.

Bill Lehmann was also out on Thursday, encouraging people to vote for Twiddy for senator. Though Lehmann said he's supported Steinburg in the past, he said Twiddy offers a unique combination of business, military and community service. He also argued Twiddy was a better listener and collaborator than Steinburg.

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