Robeson County elections board dismisses Pembroke mayor’s protest, again

By Ben Rappaport

Just off the main drag in Pembroke, behind a plaza with a convenience store, an auto repair shop and a gas station, about a dozen people live in tents. 

The unhoused people in the small tent community are central to the ongoing legal dispute surrounding last year’s race for mayor in the Robeson County town. 

Allen Dial, who owns the property on Mabe Street where the tents are set up, said he helped several people living there register to vote ahead of last November’s election. 

Dial defeated incumbent Greg Cummings by 19 votes, but Cummings challenged the results. He said some people who cast ballots were not eligible to vote, including the unhoused people on Mabe Street.  

The debate, which played out Monday evening at the Robeson County Board of Elections office in Lumberton, raises questions about homelessness and voter eligibility. 

The board ultimately dismissed Cummings’ election challenge, saying there was not enough evidence to overturn the results. The ruling echoed the board’s decision in November, when the initial protest was filed. Cummings appealed to the N.C. State Board of Elections and Wake County Superior Court, where a judge told the Robeson board to hold another hearing on the case. 

Cummings’ lawyer, Jonathan Charleston, told the Border Belt Independent that Pembroke should have a new mayoral election. He plans to appeal the case, once again, to the state board.

During his testimony on Monday, Dial said he helped homeless people, including those in tents and vehicles, register to vote as part of a broader campaign strategy to register as many voters as possible. 

Unhoused people are allowed to register to vote in all 50 states as long as they complete a voter registration form and return it to the county board of elections office. Under North Carolina law, residents who do not have a permanent address are encouraged to add the name of a shelter or the location where they normally sleep. 

In signed affidavits, those who received Dial’s help in registering said they had lived in Pembroke for more than 30 days prior to the election, allowing them to cast ballots last November.

But Charleston said the 19 affidavits were cause for serious concern. Each was written in similar handwriting, used the same verbiage and was notarized by either Lisa Dial Hunt or Sheri Dial Herndon, who are Allen Dial’s daughters.  

While Hunt and Herndon are official notaries, a document cannot be notarized by a person with a vested interest in the transaction, according to North Carolina law

Charleston said the affidavits raised further suspicion about potential conflicts of interest in the case. Robeson County Attorney Rob Davis called for an early end to a June 25 hearing when Dial testified that former part-time county attorney Gary Locklear helped him with a court affidavit. A review by the North Carolina State Bar concluded there was no conflict of interest and the proceedings could continue as scheduled.

In the affidavit filed with Locklear’s help, Dial named at least 13 voters who Cummings had protested as ineligible to vote. Dial’s affidavit identifies their addresses within town limits and says at least six were homeless at the time of the election.

Hart Miles, an attorney representing Dial, said Cummings did not have sufficient evidence to change the outcome of the election.

“The burden of proof is on Mr. Cummings to prove this evidence would change the results of the election,” Miles told the board. “They are speculating that there was some quid pro quo here, but there’s just no evidence or testimony to prove that happened.”

Miles said Cummings’ attorney could have tried to subpoena investigators or witnesses to testify. Only Cummings and Dial testified on Monday.   

Charleston said that Robeson County has a history of election mishaps, especially involving Cummings and Dial, who have vied for the mayoral seat for nearly a decade. The state ordered a redo of the 2015 election when Cummings raised concerns about voter irregularities. Dial protested the redo results when Cummings was named the winner, but his claims of a vote-buying scheme were dismissed by election officials. 

“There has never been an election between these two men that has not had some irregularity,” Charleston told the board on Monday. 

Charleston said the tenuous history between the two men put “the integrity of the electoral system in question in Robeson County.” 

Until the appeal is resolved, Cummings will continue to serve as mayor.

Allen Dial, left, and Greg Cummings (The Robesonian)