DOBSON — A local resident has filed a challenge which alleges the newly elected chair of the Surry County Republican Party doesn’t live in the county he serves.
Mount Airy resident Diana Gwyn claims Surry GOP chair Mark D. Jones doesn’t live in Surry County, the precinct in which he is registered to vote.
She filed a challenge to Jones’ right to vote in Surry County with the Surry County Board of Elections last week.
Jones was elected at the party’s annual convention on March 25, winning the chairmanship in a three-way race between him, former county commissioner candidate Van Cook and Walter Harris III.
The party chair reportedly is a resident of the Stewarts Creek 2 precinct, and the address associated with his registration is 389 Beechnut Lane, according to voting records. Jones registered to vote in Surry County on Dec. 30, 2015, and has voted absentee since. Prior to that, he was registered to vote in Craven County.
The address used by Jones is that of the Beechnut Family Campground, according to property tax records. The campground is owned by Stephen and Patricia Tolbert.
The campground’s website does note there are sites available for year-round leases.
Jones said the challenge amounts to “a vindictive attempt to assassinate my character.”
The party chair said he is a 23-year employee of the state of North Carolina. He was assigned to a job based in Surry County. He rented a house in the county before making the move to the campground.
A database of state employees indicates Jones is a wildlife research program supervisor for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
Tax records from Craven County show Jones owns nearly 70 acres of property in Craven County, which is used for agriculture or forestry purposes.
Those records indicate Jones receives his mail at a post office box in Dobson.
“I am in complete compliance with the law,” said Jones of his living situation. “I will defend my right to vote to the bitter end.”
N.C. General Statutes define a person’s residence for the purposes of voting as “the residence of a person in which that person’s habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever that person is absent, that person has the intention of returning.”
Additionally, state law addresses the matter of nontraditional residences.
“In the event that a person’s residence is not a traditional residence associated with real property, then the location of the usual sleeping area for that person shall be controlling as to the residency of that person,” reads the statute. “Residence shall be broadly construed to provide all persons with the opportunity to register and to vote, including stating a mailing address different from residence address.”
According to Surry County Board of Elections Director Susan Jarrell, the challenge will be forwarded to her governing board for a preliminary hearing at which the board will determine if there is sufficient evidence to set a hearing on the matter.
If — after the two hearings — the board determines Jones is not entitled to vote in Surry County, the party chair would be entitled to an appeal before the Superior Court of Surry County.
Jones said he is prepared to fight the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of garbage they have to present at the hearing,” said Jones.
He added that when all of the facts are presented, it may be his accusers and others who are behind the challenge who should be concerned about the repercussions of breaking the law.
“Ultimately, I hope they have followed all laws regarding trespassing, slander and the use of government vehicles and property,” said the chairman. “Politics is down and dirty these days.”
“It’s a vindictive effort based on no evidence,” added Jones of Gwyn’s challenge.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.