Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Independent N.C. House candidate Ken Fontenot should have enough signatures to see his name on the ballot in November, but supporters aren’t counting electoral chickens before they hatch.
“Because they’re not verified, I’m not claiming victory,” said Christy Fyle, chairwoman of the Wilson County Republican Party.
Fontenot’s campaign will continue to circulate his ballot access petition until the Wilson County Board of Elections certifies his candidacy. Supporters say 1,708 signatures have been verified, and the 656 delivered to election officials on Thursday should put the pastor, teacher and Marine Corps veteran above the 2,213-signature threshold required to be a listed candidate.
“Honestly I’m just blown away,” Fontenot said outside the Board of Elections office. “I’m just humbled by the opportunity.”
Fontenot is challenging eight-term Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat, to represent Wilson County’s state House District 24. With no Republicans running for the seat, the county GOP endorsed Fontenot and pledged support for his campaign to promote competition.
“During the petition process, our goal was to give Ken a chance to be on the November ballot,” Fyle said. “We wanted to give the voters of Wilson County a choice. We wanted to get away from party politics. Ken’s campaign will be positive and discuss issues with solutions. We believe Ken will bring people together through shared beliefs and values.”
The N.C. Republican Party is also backing Fontenot. State party officials paid for mailers that include a detachable petition signature form with a postage-paid return label to be distributed to 6,000 Wilson County homes. Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, recorded a robocall urging Wilson voters to sign the petition.
Fyle turned in 374 signatures from the NCGOP mailers and 282 signatures to locally circulated petitions on Thursday. She said Fontenot’s addition to the ballot is “a community effort from Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters who share common conservative values.”
State law requires unaffiliated General Assembly candidates to obtain signatures from 4 percent of registered voters in their district by May 8 in order to have their names listed on the ballot. With no primaries for independent and unrecognized third-party candidates, office-seekers who meet the petition requirement advance to the general election.
The Fontenot campaign has amassed more than 3,000 signatures, but roughly 15 percent were tossed because they are illegible or belong to people who are not registered to vote in House District 24. The county elections board verifies each signature before certifying that a candidate has successfully petitioned for ballot access.
Fontenot said he will remain involved in Wilson County’s civic life as he campaigns for office.
“It’s all about people,” he said. “I plan to just continue to meet people face-to-face at every event possible, to have what I call skin in the game.”
A self-described conservative, Fontenot said he chooses to remain independent to avoid being pigeonholed as a partisan. Republicans say his values align closely with theirs and GOP officials have eagerly supported him even though he is not a party member.
“The Wilson County Republican Party is made up of many individuals with various viewpoints on conservative issues,” Fyle said in a statement. “We believe diversity is a strength and sharing of opinions is vital for our success. We may not always agree on topics, but we always respect other views. We are the party of Lincoln and civil rights. We believe in fair, equal justice and limited government. We believe in people’s right to succeed. We value our Constitution. We invite and encourage people to get to know the Republican Party better.”
As of the registration deadline for the May primary, Wilson County had 55,439 registered voters, including 29,034 Democrats, 13,512 Republicans, 12,734 unaffiliated, 158 Libertarians and one Green Party member.
One-stop early voting in the 2018 primaries is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays through May 4, with 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. hours on Saturday, April 21 and Saturday, May 5, and 12:30-4:30 p.m. access on Sunday, April 29.
Early voting takes place at the Wilson County Board of Elections, 112 Douglas St. E.