Bid to recall Small fails amid low turnout, high heat

by Amy Kingsley

At the height of the morning rush on Aug. 21, election workers at Greensboro precinct No. 51 – headquartered at the Glenwood Recreation Center – had a line exactly one voter long. A few early birds had beaten the unlucky voter to the three electronic ballot boxes set up on skinny legs near a wall of wooden cubbyholes. He waited while they answered the ballot’s only question: Are you for or against the recall of Dianne Bellamy-Small?

By mid-afternoon traffic had slowed to a steady but leisurely trickle. Several minutes elapsed between voters, and by 2:30 p.m. election workers had counted only 76 of them.

One of the afternoon voters was Venus Pennix, a resident of District 1 for 17 years. Pennix, along with a handful of others, took time out of her workday to register her dissatisfaction with the District 1 city councilwoman.

“A lot of the voters in her district are not being dealt with evenly,” Pennix said. “Knowing this area is where [a lot of the] petitions are coming from, I’m surprised she never came out here to meet with us.”

Unfortunately for Pennix, she and her neighbors did not cast enough votes to turn the embattled councilwoman out of office. Bellamy-Small supporters outnumbered her detractors in the final count by 937 to 670 votes. The final tally revealed that less than 6 percent of District 1’s 28,896 registered voters turned out for the special election, and fewer people voted to remove Bellamy-Small from office than signed the recall petition.

The slow pace left poll workers filling time by knitting, reading, talking and sudoku-ing. At Greensboro College’s Reynolds Center, workers reclined in a dim room ringed with arcade games. Their precinct saw very little traffic. Between 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m., only two voters cast ballots.

“It would be a much easier day if we had voters,” one of the workers said. “We wouldn’t have to think about the next potato chip we’re going to eat or which machine to plug in.”

David Arneke, the president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association and director of corporate and foundation relations at UNCG, pedaled over during his lunch break. Arneke said he votes in all the municipal elections, but declined to say whether or not he voted for Bellamy-Small’s ouster.

“This is about what I expected,” he said of the abysmal turnout. “It’s unfortunate, but city elections in general don’t turn a lot of people out.”

Jeffrey Swisher, the elections coordinator, swung by the precinct to check up.

“I predicted we’d have fifty voters per precinct,” Swisher said.

“No, I don’t think we’re going to make that,” the chief judge said.

Most voters cast ballots between 6:30 and 8 a.m., Swisher said. In big elections, the crowds might swell again after 5 p.m. But the elections workers at the Reynolds Center said they didn’t expect to see many more voters before polls closed at 7:30 p.m. Business was brisker at the Glenwood Recreation Center which, by midday, looked to be the busiest of all 19 voting sites. Bellamy-Small had not yet visited the precinct, but she had been making the rounds earlier that morning. By the afternoon, campaigners who had been out in front of the center earlier in the day had fled to cooler environs.

“Over at Warnersville I saw a guy standing over there right next to the swimming pool,” Swisher said. “I said, ‘If you want to jump in there, I’m not going to do anything about it.'”

Some voters braved the heat. J. Harold, another longtime District 1 resident shared Pennix’s opinion of Bellamy-Small.

“I don’t want her representing me,” Harold said. “I want someone representing Greensboro who is for all the people, someone who is sincere and has integrity.”

L. Patrick, a Bellamy-Small supporter who is relatively new to the district, cast his ballot next.

“I think she’s a dynamic individual,” he said. “I’m neither a Republican or Democrat, but I like what she’s done for the voters.”

Swisher said that Warnersville Recreation Center had seen a glut of voters in the morning, but by the afternoon the crowds had dried up. Several election workers manned folding tables inside a cavernous basketball court. They passed the minutes hunting a particularly pesky fly.

“It’s been coming in waves,” said Shelia Sandifer during one of the ebbs. Election worker Debbie Lloyd cast the 50th vote during the afternoon downtime. A few minutes later, a voter directed to Warnersville by election officials downtown entered and filled out a change-of-address form. Then, he walked over to the voting machine, made his selection, and confirmed it – which committed the selection to backup paper in a low printing whir.

“Well I guess I voted to keep her in office,” said the voter, Robert Leonard. “I’m not against her at all. I haven’t ever talked to her in person, just seen her in the paper, but she’s alright with me.”

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