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2010 ballot may have at-large, district races
Old rules hold for special election
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Forsyth County News
Brian Tam’s decision to run for state office has caused an unexpected hiccup in the 2010 primary election.

It appears the special election to fill Tam’s unexpired term on the county commission may be open to all county voters, instead of following Forsyth’s new guidelines, which call for district-only votes.

If so, the ballot for the July 20 primary would feature a countywide vote on Tam’s post, in District 2, and district-specific contests for Districts 1 and 3.

The new law, which takes effect for the 2010 election, was approved in 2008, replacing the former at-large method.

District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, who sponsored the district legislation, said there has been a lack of understanding and a special election could lead to more confusion.

“Hopefully ... people will read the newspaper, talk to the right people and get the right information, so that when they go to vote in the primary, they will be able to vote for the correct person,” he said.

“My suspicion would be that anyone running for any of these offices will hopefully make it very clear on which residents are able to vote for which candidate.”

To qualify for the District 24 state House seat, Tam must leave his post in April, nearly three years before his second term ends.

Whoever is elected to replace Tam would serve out the remainder of that term, which expires in January 2013.

Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the special election will “replace a position that was elected at large.”

“I’m looking at the language on its face, which would tend to suggest that the replacement position would be elected at large because the post voting requirement had not yet been triggered,” he said. “I’ve not concluded that yet, but that’s what I’m looking at.”

Matthew Carrothers, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, said the decision of whether to follow the old or new guidelines would be up to the county.

When the bill was being crafted, Hamilton said, legislators ran through multiple scenarios, including making the new law effective Jan. 1, 2009.

But, he said, it was “determined that it would be more consistent to make the new law only apply to those new election cycles as the new election cycles begin.”

“I think that the voters ... elected him countywide and so, should someone leave, we want to continue to honor the will of the people who elected that position,” Hamilton said. “That’s why we decided to keep it the same.”

Barbara Luth, county elections supervisor, said the county’s attorneys are “asking for the attorney general’s opinion because of the way the new law was written.”

“It says it begins with the general election in 2010,” she said. “But because he was voted countywide, he could still have to follow that rule.

“We can do it either way. We can do it countywide, if that’s what the attorney general and the legislators had intended, or we can do it by district.”

Regardless of how the special election is handled, Luth and Jarrard say they will work closely to keep voters informed.

Jarrard said the goal is to “make sure that the ballots are as clear as they can possibly be so that voters will not be confused.”

“It might be something that would be the subject of some informational campaigns to make people understand that the ballot will be divided by post versus those that are elected at-large.”

The other posts up for election in 2010 are Districts 1, currently held by Charles Laughinghouse, and District 3, represented by Jim Harrell.

Neither man has publicly said whether they intend to seek re-election.

E-mail Jennifer Sami at