Lox Leach is back on the ballot for Mooresville’s Board of Commissioners after the North Carolina Board of Elections ruled that he shouldn’t have been removed by the Iredell County Board of Elections.
The NCSBE noted that as long as the candidate is domiciled at an address in the municipality for 30 or more days before the election — making a home a permanent address, not only a resident there — they are eligible to run for office. The state board stated that Leach met the residency requirement.
The state board said the ICBOE had misapplied the law and because it had gone into closed session impermissibly, it would reverse the local board’s decision with a 4-1 vote.
With Leach back on the ballot, that means he, Gary West, and Mike Cabe will face off in a primary to narrow the contest down to two candidates. Early voting starts this week.
“Mr. Leach is now a candidate and we will have an October primary,” Susie Jordan said. She is the director of the Iredell County Board of Elections.
She said one-stop voting will begin Thursday in one location at the Board of Elections office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. One-stop voting is available Monday through Friday until Oct. 1, with the final day of one-stop voting on Oct. 2 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Election day is Oct. 5.
The challenge against Leach began in August when current Mooresville Board of Commissioners member West had filed it, challenging if Leach lived inside of the municipality.
In June, Leach moved from a home on Decatur Avenue after it was sold. His children and their mother moved into a home on Waterlynn Road, which is outside of the municipality of Mooresville. Leach stated that the plan had been to move into another home, possibly even building a new one on a plot of land he had bought, but his children and their mother living on her family’s property on Waterlynn was only temporary.
Leach had his mail sent to the Waterlynn address but said he had no plans of making that a permanent home. Then in early August, his godmother passed away. He and his brother took over the home on North Academy Street and he updated his voter registration to the Academy Street address, back inside the municipality, on Aug. 10. He then filed for office on Aug. 13.
The ICBOE had stated Leach hadn’t done enough to establish the Academy Street residence as his domicile and removed him from the ballot. If that decision had held, there would be no primary in October.
However, the NCSBE saw it differently and took issue with both how the ICBOE made its judgment and the judgment itself.
The NCSBE’s Associate General Counsel Kelly Tornow noted that the ICBOE erred by going into a closed session during the appeal, which she said was impermissible legally.
“Because they went into closed session inappropriately to deliberate and vote, there’s no way for the state board to understand what the basis the county board had, what the basis was for the county board’s decision. There’s no indication, therefore, as to what evidence the board considered when deciding Mr. Leach did not live in the town, how the board weighed the evidence, or if the board considered Mr. Leach and his brother as credible witnesses.”
Jordan said when she was asked that the ICBOE’s legal representation was not on hand during the hearing in August.
In the state appeal, Leach noted his only addresses used in his voter registration had been the Decatur and Academy addresses. He praised Jordan for her work but had felt the Iredell County board didn’t acknowledge the nature of his temporary residence and eventual domicile.
Though that may not have mattered ultimately as the NCSBE said the local board had misapplied the residency law as Leach needs to be a resident of a qualified address for 30 days before the election, which takes place in October.
“The board misunderstood the legal standard they were to apply at the county board level. That is clearly an error of law that’s before us,” Stacy Eggers said. He had been in favor to remanding the decision back to the local board, but despite his no vote he agreed the local board had erred.
He also noted that due to the closed session the ICBOE conducted and records the NCSBE had, it couldn’t fully determine the reasoning it used to make its judgment. He said this case also highlighted what he saw as an issue with the law as the burden of proof is on the candidate, not the challenger that in this case provided no evidence.
The voters will decide
In the NCSBE’s hearing, it said as an overall principle it believes with exceptions for the obvious cases where it needs to act, it leans toward leaving candidates on the ballot and allowing voters to decide.
That was something ICBOE member Alan Carpenter said he agreed with even though the NCSBE reversed its decision. He said he understood their reasoning on both the residency/domicile issue as well as the mistake of going into closed session improperly.
“The voters ultimately are the decision makers,” Carpenter said. “There was evidence of on different sides, but that it would ultimately be up to the voters of the town to decide whether the candidate is a resident of the of the town, so that that we certainly agree with.”
Carpenter said he understood that the local board may have misinterpreted the need for 30 days of residency and domiciling, even if the board had questions about where Leach was ultimately calling home. He said the case also shed light on how the state and municipalities could make the rules and laws regarding residency more straightforward, noting that while Leach was a long-time Mooresville resident, he had concerns about how potential candidates could move in close to an election and then run for office.