‘Unity’ bloc, board seats pique interest

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SILER CITY — More than 9,000 voters cast primary ballots in early voting — which ended Saturday — across Chatham County, but on Tuesday in Siler City, the town’s two precincts drew plenty of Election Day voters, candidates and observers.

Many voters who came out said the four contested seats on town’s board, including the vacant mayor seat and three commissioner slots, sparked their interest on a warm and sunny day.

All told, 1,148 Siler City voters cast ballots during the two-week early voting period, including 457 in the town’s municipal election.

Some Siler City voters queried at the town’s precincts say they turned out to have their say on the abortion debate and education; others say they came out to save democracy.

“Our democracy is in danger, and we want to preserve it,” said Vicky Justice, 68, who cast her ballot at the National Guard Armory on Alston Bridge Road in Siler City.

Many, too, turned out to support a particular party: at the Armory, an elderly couple leaving the polls echoed similar sentiments — “We’ve got to vote the Republicans back in,” each said independently.

Leonard Smith of Silk Hope said he always voted on Election Day. Asked what was on his mind as he cast his ballot, he said: “As long as the Republicans get back in.”

Many of the town’s board of commissioners candidates were greeting voters walking into the Armory. Mayoral candidate Nick Gallardo staked out a position nearest the parking area before polls opened at 6:30 and engaged with most who came out to vote throughout the morning.

“We’ve had a good amount of people coming out,” he said. “It’s been pretty good so far.”

Gallardo said some voters he’d spoken to mentioned news reports about harassing messages he’d received. (See related story, page A13.)

“A few people saw me on the news,” he said. “They said they were sorry to see what’s happening, but some people aren’t surprised.”

As Gallardo spoke with the News + Record, one voter walked by and exchanged fist bumps with him, saying: “Good stuff — proud of you guys.”

Jared Picot, seeking the Dist. 5 town commissioner seat, said it was good to see the steady turnout.

“It’s people just doing their civic duty,” he said. “I really love this process. A lot of people are coming out doing what they think is necessary.”

Nearby, Steve Lowman and his wife Pat stopped late Tuesday morning to talk with Siler City Commissioner Norma Boone, who was sitting under a tent speaking to poll workers. Lowman, who’s lived in Siler City for 67 years, said Siler City’s town commissioner races — four seats were contested — was a main factor in drawing him to the polls.

The candidates he voted for “are Siler City,” he said. “They are Siler City. I’ve been knowing them for years and they’re good people.”

Boone, running unopposed in the Dist. 2 seat, said the town’s election was particularly important because Siler City “is on the cusp of something special.”

“It’s important to have candidates who are going to be able to help move things along,” she said. “That’s one of the most important things. You’ve got to know what you’re working for. You’ve got to have lived it a bit. A short time here isn’t going to give you a feel for the town. There should be a little more experience — then being able to know your platform, making sure you’ve hit all the areas of town, not just particular pockets.”

In response to a question about the “Unity 2022” candidates — Gallardo, Jared Picot and Samuel Williams, who were at the Armory, and Dean Picot II, who was campaigning at the Western Chatham Senior Center precint — she said: “I know someone who’s supporting them because they say they’re bringing something new to town. How do you know what the town needs when you haven’t been here to experience what the town needs? Knowledge is the key — if you’re not knowledgeable about what you’re getting into, then wait awhile and make that step.”

Voters shared Boone’s concerns on the other side of town at West Chatham. There, Pamela Hawe was one of the people trying to encourage people to vote.

“There’s a lot of confusion about people on the ballot and who they are and what they stand for,” Hawe said. “That opposes the citizens that have been here all along.”

She manned a tent for the Chatham County Democratic Party outside the Senior Center from the time polls opened at 6:30 a.m., with plans to stay until they closed at 7:30 p.m. She said this year’s election was an intriguing primary because many Siler City residents had questions about the views and objectives of the people on the ballot.

“We basically have a nonpartisan election on a partisan ballot,” Hawe said, referring to Siler City’s nonpartisan town election occuring during a primary. “We just need to make sure people understand what they see when they go in there. It’s an unusual circumstance — doesn’t normally happen, but it did.”

Hawe has been involved with helping the Chatham Democratic Party since 2009, and she said helping people sort through the candidates and their values this year was especially challenging in Siler City.

Despite the confusion, though, poll observers remarked on the increased turnout. Hawe said this year is the most voters she’s ever seen for a primary election.

One of those was Joy Barker. She said she came out to vote because it was an important expression of patriotism.

“People can’t complain if they’re not going to vote,” Barker said. “It takes a lot to get done what needs to get done. People can’t just expect things.”

The people protecting that right to complain are poll watchers like Joshua Jacoby. He volunteered to monitor the polls at the Western Chatham location through El Pueblo — a nonprofit Latino community organizing group. He said he and other volunteers came to the polls spuured by hearing about threats of voter intimidation.

“We want to make sure things go smoothly, nobody gets harassed, nobody gets turned away due to language difficulties,” Jacoby said. “In Siler City, it’s not crazy to say the Hispanic population may be intimidated if there are radical people here.”

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