Despite just five contested town races in Sampson County — on par with the numor less than in recent years — more eligible voters came out this year than in municipal elections held here in 2015 and 2017, according to N.C. Board of Elections records.
Voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was a shade over 13 percent, with 958 out of 7,342 eligible voters in each town casting their ballots. Sampson’s election ultimately saw three new mayors elected — in Autryville, Newton Grove and Turkey — along with 10 new board members elected in towns across the county, including Autryville (2), Clinton (1), Garland (2), Newton Grove (1), Salemburg (3) and Turkey (1).
There were five contested races in Sampson, including races for Autryville mayor and commissioner, Newton Grove mayor, Salemburg Board of Commissioners and Turkey Town Council. There was also an ABC referendum in Autryville for the off-premises sale of malt beverages and unfortified wine, which passed in respective votes of 43-18 and 45-17.
This week’s five contested races was the same number Sampson had two years ago, in November 2017, but 312 more voters came to the polls for this year’s election. In 2017, 646 out of 7,853 eligible voters in Sampson (8.23 percent) cast their ballots.
In that 2017 election, Garland’s was the sole mayoral race that was contested in this county, while there were commissioner contests in Autryville, Garland, Newton Grove and Salemburg. Salemburg saw five candidates vying for three seats, as opposed to the 10 who vied for three seats in this election.
It was a busy election in Garland, as there was also an ABC referendum on the ballot for the on- and off-premises sale of malt beverages, mixed beverages and unfortified wine.
In November 2015, had almost the same number of voters as 2019’s, with 953 out of 7,565 eligible voters (12.6 percent) going to the polls.
That 2015 election saw eight contested races, including mayoral contests in Autryville, Newton Grove, Roseboro and Turkey, as well as commissioner races in Autryville, Garland, Roseboro and Salemburg. There was also a Harrells ABC referendum on the ballot in that election four years ago.
Voter turnout numbers were not immediately available for 2011 and 2013 municipal elections in Sampson.
In Autryville, Mayor Larry D. Autry was unseated by Richard Spell for the mayoral post
For the Autryville town board, five people vied for three seats. Commissioners Lawrence (Larry) Bernstein, Carolyn L. Cashwell and Dana Tyndall Hairr sought to keep their places on the board, while Grayson B. Spell and Mickie Wilton Spell went up against them. In the end, just one incumbent, Hairr, was among the top three for as many available spots on the board, with the Spells running away with the top two spots.
In Newton Grove, former town commissioner and mayor hopeful Stephen Jackson defeated Mayor Gerald Darden to take the top spot. It was a repeat of the 2015 mayoral race, when Darden defeated Jackson.
On the Newton Grove board, longtime commissioner Alan Herring did not file for reelection, paving the way for newcomer Dana Ellington-Ruiz. Incumbent Cody Smith will also return to the board as no opposition presented itself for the two available spots.
In Salemburg, Mayor Joe Warren earned his second term in another unopposed race, same as four years ago.
There were three town seats up for grabs in Salemburg and a whopping 10 people vying for them.
Newcomers Juanita Faircloth, Michelle Hill and Grady Collier will take their places on the new-look board after separating themselves from the pack. Shirley Cooper did not file for reelection, while incumbents Don (Mack) Honeycutt and Bobby Tew were hoping to retain their seats, but were unsuccessful in their bids.
In Turkey, Max Pope will transition from commissioner to mayor, running unopposed for the post vacated by Donald Myers. Turkey commissioner Mike Smith retained his seat, while newcomer Tracie Pryor will fill the vacant board spot left by Pope.
In Garland, Mayor Winifred Hill Murphy earned her fourth term as mayor. Commissioner Austin Brown, who previously left the board but ultimately chose to file to fill his own unexpired term, will return to the board. He will be joined by newcomers Carolyn Robinson Melvin and Barbara Ann Peterson, who supplant Mary Brown, who did not run, and the late Ralph Smith.
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling and District 2 Councilman Neal Strickland both retained their seats, neither having opposition. It is Starling’s 10th consecutive term as mayor. Clinton will have a new Council member, as C. Holden DuBose III will succeed Jean Turlington in District 4. Turlington did not seek reelection.
In Roseboro, Mayor Alice Butler earned a second term, while Commissioners Ray Clark Fisher, Richard Barefoot and Cary Taylor Holland all returned to the board unopposed.
Down in Harrells, James Moore, Johnny “Ray” Powell and Katie Greer will similarly keep their seats as aldermen for the town, with no opposition presenting itself.
The mayor is not decided by the people in Harrells. Aldermen are elected and they are responsible for choosing who among them will be mayor. Moore has served in that capacity for nearly two decades.
Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.