An Orange County Sheriff’s deputy led the pack in Tuesday’s election to fill four nonpartisan seats on the Orange County Board of Education.
In a race that produced at least one conservative candidate in the left-leaning county — a nod to national efforts to seat conservative school boards opposed to mask mandates and equity and diversity curriculum and materials — André Richmond emerged the top vote-getter with 19.08% of the vote.
Richmond leads the Sheriff’s Office school resource officers program and has previously worked for the schools.
In an interview Tuesday night with The News & Observer, Richmond said he was surprised by the results.
“I’ve always been taught that if you speak from your heart and you treat people right, people will see the real you,” Richmond said. “I felt like I had a chance, but I wasn’t too sure. I didn’t want to count my eggs before they hatch.”
He also shared his excitement about a new mentor program that will pair SRO officers with Orange County middle and high school students next year. The high school focus will be on making sure the students are ready for a career, college or the military, he said.
Other candidates rounding out the winners Tuesday were challenger Anne Purcell, who moved from fifth to second place throughout the night, garnering 15.73% of the vote. She was followed by two incumbent board members: Will Atherton earned a very close 15.70% of the vote and Sarah Smylie earned 15.19% of the vote.
Purcell is a retired Orange County Schools educator and administrator, with 30 years of experience. Atherton, an information technology professional, and Smylie, a former teacher, were re-elected to their second terms on the board.
Newcomer Ashley Wheeler fell from fourth place in early voting to fifth, with 14.20% of the vote. She was followed by newcomers Penny Carter King, with 12.75% of the vote and Bethni Lee, with 5.72% of the vote.
All 17 precincts had reported their results as of 10:29 p.m.
Orange County voters cast 14,946 ballots during the early voting period this year, Board of Elections officials said.
While Carter King faced rumors about her political leanings, which she challenged May 5 in a long Facebook post, only Lee publicly touted support from the conservative group Moms for Liberty. The race also saw the launch of OCS Truth, a political action committee advocating for conservative values and parental rights.
An eighth candidate, Garfield “Garen” McClure, dropped out of the race on March 14, too late to be removed from the ballot. However, he received 1.30% of the early vote.
School board member Hillary MacKenzie and board Vice Chair Brenda Stephens will step down when their terms expire this year.