Carrboro town officials refuse to remove Black Lives Matter flags from Early Voting site

NCSBE letter: All voters should be able to exercise right to vote without intimidation or hindrance

Black Lives Matter flags fly outside a Carrboro Early Voting site. Images obtained from the N.C. Board of Elections

RALEIGH— Carrboro elected officials are refusing to remove Black Lives Matter flags hanging at one of the town’s early voting sites after being asked to do so in an official letter from the N.C. Board of Elections.

On Oct. 28, N.C State Board of Elections (NCSBE) Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell sent a letter to Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and town council members instructing them that the flags needed to come down.

carrboro blm flags
Oct. 29, 2020 — Black Lives Matter flags hang at a Carrboro Early voting location. Image via the NCSBE.

“The flags are attached to the front of the one-stop site and therefore could be interpreted as an official endorsement by the board of elections in favor of a particular movement,” wrote Brinson Bell.  “While these flags may be a supported symbol of the Town of Carrboro, the one-stop early voting site is open to any Orange County voter and therefore the site must provide the opportunity for all voters to exercise their right to vote without intimidation or hindrance.”

Several photos were sent to the NCSBE showing four large Black Live Matter flags flying within the restricted electioneering buffer zone. North Carolina requires a 50-foot buffer zone around the entrance to a polling place to curb “harassment and intimidation” of voters. No electioneering can occur and no political signage may be placed within the buffer zone.

Brinson Bell cited several complaints from voters as well as the General Counsel for the Republican Party. One citizen wrote to the NCSBE after being told by the Orange County Board of Election that “nothing they could do” despite a number of complaints being filed. The same citizen wrote that “this clear attempt at voter intimidation should not stand.”

Carrboro Town Council Members 2020:
Standing Center: Mayor Lydia Lavelle Seated, left to right: Susan Romaine and Damon Seils Standing, left to right: Jacquelyn Gist, Randee Haven-O’Donnell, Sammy Slade and Barbara Foushee, Mayor Pro Tempore

Carrboro Town Council held an emergency virtual meeting regarding the flags which was followed by a closed session to consult with the town’s attorney. When the town’s officials emerged, they issued a two-sentence statement that acknowledged Brinson Bell’s letter and rejected removing the Black Lives Matter flags from the polling place.

“After consulting with the town attorney, the Mayor and Town Council have chosen to leave the flags in place,” Carrboro officials said in their statement.

The Town of Carrboro’s website describes itself as a “progressive haven” and a “remarkable example of a diverse, exciting, town.”

North State Journal reached out to the NCSBE to ask about what course of action might be next and is awaiting a response.

Over the Halloween weekend, the Orange Country Republican Party issued a statement condemning the “voter intimidation efforts led by the Town of Carrboro in violation of state election law.”

“We are fortunate to live in the greatest free country in the world. To believe, think and vote independently is the right of every citizen. Election laws need to apply equally to all people, and the law clearly states that campaigning or political activity within the buffer zone around a voting location is illegal,” said Orange County GOP Chairman Waddy Davis. “Unfortunately, the elected officials within the Town of Carrboro have decided to ignore the law and politicize the polling location at Town Hall.”

Davis also said that Orange GOP volunteers have seen “physical abuse” from “intolerant liberals while working the polling location in Carrboro.” He goes on to say that their volunteers have been “cursed out, had materials stolen, been subjected to obscene gestures, and threatened on an almost daily basis.”

“The elected leadership of Carrboro needs to act on behalf of all citizens of their community, not just those on the left. It is unfortunate that Carrboro town council members have chosen to display Black Lives Matter flags instead of the American flag during this critical election,” said Davis in the statement.

Davis notes at the end of the statement that the NCSBE’s executive director requested the flags be removed. As of Monday, Nov. 2, the Black Lives Matter flags are still flying outside the Carrboro early voting site.

North State Journal obtained the following statement from the NCSBE on Nov. 2:

At the State Board of Elections, we must be neutral referees over the election process. This means attempting to address any circumstances where voters feel intimidated or uncomfortable exercising their constitutional right to vote.

“We asked the town of Carrboro in Orange County to remove flags from an early voting site as a result of numerous complaints from voters. The town refused. The Carrboro Town Hall will also be used as an Election Day polling place.

Unfortunately, it is too late in the process to move the polling place, and such a late change would undoubtedly confuse voters and likely keep some voters from casting ballots. According to state law, affected voters must be notified at least 30 days in advance of any polling place change.

We will take steps to ensure that this site is not used as a polling place in any future election without written assurances from town officials that the flags or other communication will not be present inside the buffer zone or voting enclosure during voting.

A prayer rally and protest is being held on Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. in front of the Carrboro polling location still flying the Black Lives Matter flags. The organizers are Frederick Douglass Foundation of NC & The NC Black Conservative Voices.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated.

About A.P. Dillon 329 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_