State Council races too close to call

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 20, 2004

RALEIGH – Seventeen days have passed since the Nov. 2 General Election and there are still no clear-cut winners in two races for State Council.

With protests currently being filed by two candidates, the State Board of Elections (SBOE) has not ruled out another election. That comes as bad news for the Roanoke-Chowan area boards of election as their limited budgets do not include money for this type of scenario.

As of late Thursday afternoon, the SBOE reported that all mandated recounts have been completed statewide.

In the race for Agriculture Commissioner, Republican challenger Steve Troxler holds a slim 2,287-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Britt Cobb. Troxler garnered 1,666,197 votes (50.034 percent) while Cobb was named on 1,663,910 ballots (49.965 percent). Cobb has filed a protest, asking the State Board to conduct a second recount in each of the state’s 100 counties.

Meanwhile, June Atkinson (D) holds an 8,535-vote advantage over Bill Fletcher (R) for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The first recount showed Atkinson with 50.129 percent of the vote (1,655,719) compared to 49.870 percent (1,647,184) for Fletcher.

Fletcher is also banking on a SBOE decision to order a new election. He has filed a protest in that regard, one built upon the fact that over 4,400 votes were lost in Carteret County during the One-Stop voting process. He is also challenging more than 10,000 provisional ballots that he referred to as &uot;questionable.&uot;

On Monday, Fletcher filed an action in Wake County Superior Court, one asking the judicial system to clarify North Carolina election law as it pertains to &uot;qualified voters&uot; and certain provisional ballots cast on election day. Fletcher claims that county election boards treat provisional votes differently.

&uot;The subset of provisional ballots in question is those cast by persons who did not live in the precinct where they voted,&uot; said Fletcher. &uot;These partial or out-of-precinct voters’ ballots were treated differently by different local boards of election. In some counties, the entire ballot was rejected. In others, votes for state and federal offices were counted. In still others, only votes for federal offices were counted.&uot;

He added that the goal of his legal action was to assure that out-of-precinct provisional ballots are treated the same way in all 100 counties and that the State Constitution and General Statutes are uniformly applied to all voters and ballots.

Locally, the boards of election in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties completed their normal canvass process on Nov. 9. As ordered by the SBOE, each local board also conducted a full recount of the votes cast in the pair of razor close State Council races. That recount was completed earlier this week.

Cobb, with 18,831 votes (76.2 percent), was the overwhelming favorite in the local area. Troxler was named on 5,871 ballots.

In the State Superintendent’s race, Atkinson (17,616 votes, or 74.6 percent) easily surpassed Fletcher’s 6,009 votes in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton.

Election officials in each of the three local counties confirmed they have been directed not to take any additional action, at the local level, on the two hotly contested races unless ordered by the SBOE.

Meanwhile, they all await word from Raleigh if there will be another election ordered for at least one, perhaps both, of those races. That decision is likely to come after the SBOE meets Nov. 29 in Raleigh to hear the official protests and reach a decision.

Also, the final vote remains uncertified. That is expected to come on Nov. 23 when the SBOE conducts its canvass – a process of certifying the vote totals sent to Raleigh from each county.

&uot;We’re hoping to avoid another election,&uot; said Tonya Pitts, Director of the Northampton County Board of Elections. &uot;We’ve figured it will cost us, at a minimum, in the range of $14,000. We don’t have that in our budget because, by law, we are not required to budget for a new election following a General Election.&uot;