One Vote (Out Of 23) Decided An Election In This Small Town

Nov 11, 2015

For years, Linda Joyner had been unsatisfied with the lack of recreational opportunities for children and teenagers in her small town in Eastern North Carolina. And she was unhappy about other things in the town of Princeville, population 2,000: the state government had taken over parts of the town administration, and the town did not have its own police department.

The Town of Princeville Board of Commissioners. Mayor Pro-Tem Ann Howell (second from left, bottom row), was unseated in an election that was decided by one vote.
Credit Town of Princeville

This year, she said, she got tired of hearing herself complain, registered as a candidate to the town’s Board of Commissioners, and knocked on more than 300 doors to ask people for her vote.

On the election night of Nov. 3, Joyner was surprised not only that she unseated Ann Howell, an incumbent of 24 years, but by voter turnout: Joyner got 12 and Howell got 11.

The vote was recounted by the Edgecombe County Board of Elections and confirmed this week.

"'Perhaps people were like, 'What for? Why would I need to go to the polls and vote?' And that’s why I want to be a voice for the people," Joyner said on Tuesday. "There can be changes. There will be changes."

Princeville voters don’t have to look far in the town leadership’s history to find reasons for apathy: in 2013, a state audit concluded the town mayor improperly used town money, and in 2012, the state Local Government Commission took over management of the town’s finances.

Joyner, who works with teenagers at the OIC vocational school in Rocky Mount, said she was overjoyed and that she wanted to work on creating a police department for the town, and creating new recreational options for young people. But, more importantly, she said, she wanted to cultivate the trust of the hundreds of registered voters who did not turn out to polling stations.

"A lot of people say, 'My vote doesn’t matter, mine is just one vote,' but it does matter," Joyner said. "This election proves that."

Howell could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.