Tension between Durham political groups erupts in Board of Elections parking lot

The Durham County Board of Elections office downtown is an early voting site and the site of tension between campaign supporters.
The Durham County Board of Elections office downtown is an early voting site and the site of tension between campaign supporters. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Tensions in the Durham County Board of Elections parking lot between campaign workers erupted with a restraining order Friday morning.

Solomon Burnette, a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People who is working at the downtown BOE early voting site, filed a restraining order against Keisha Turrention, who is working at the same site for the People’s Alliance political action committee.

Each PAC’s tent and table are in a corner of the Board of Elections parking lot on North Roxboro Street, where they must be at least 25 feet from the building entrance, according to Board of Elections Director Derek Bowens. Bowens said he has gone out to the parking lot to deal with some incidents between the two campaign groups.

“There’s definitely been some back and forth about aggressive electioneering,” Bowens said Friday afternoon. The only person he has asked to leave was Jan Cromartie. Cromartie is a former Durham Committee volunteer who was accused of harrassment by a People’s Alliance member during early voting before the October primary election.

“It’s definitely not constant, but every couple days there’s a complaint about an electioneer,” he said. It’s a concern “if anytime it’s impeding or slowing the process of voting,” he said.

“I just pre-emptively didn’t want the law used against me, so I pre-emptively insulated myself,” Burnette said. He said he wanted to keep his reputation intact because it has “taken awhile to rebuild. I’m a Durham son. I’m no angel, but I’m redeemed.”

Burnette said he took out the restraining order after Turrention called a security guard out from the BOE office and accused him of sexually harrassing her, which he denies. She had not filed related charges as of Friday afternoon.

“These allegations are really harshing my vibe,” said Burnette, who has worked several days of early voting for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

According to the restraining order filed at the Durham County Courthouse, which spells Turrention’s last name as Turrentine, Burnette wrote that she “screamed at me repeatedly ‘Don’t look at me!’” and that in October she “screamed ‘Don’t touch me!’” In the order, Burnette wrote that he feels as though she’s “attempting to create a fictional narrative in order to misuse law enforcement against me.”

Turrention said on Friday afternoon that she was unaware of a restraining order from Burnette. She said she has complained about Burnette previously to Bowens.

Both Burnette and Turrention were at the BOE early voting site on Friday, as well as City Council Ward 2 candidate the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, who is endorsed by the Durham Committee, and Jackie Wagstaff, a former City Council member who is a member of the People’s Alliance and working at their campaign tent.

Bowens said he has made it clear that he will ask someone to leave if they are affecting the progress and access of voters to the voting place.

The final day of early voting is Saturday. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan