Carteret to decide Ag Commissioner’s race

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 7, 2004

RALEIGH – Carteret County – an area known better for its beautiful beaches rather than tobacco barns – will decide the winner of the state’s Agriculture Commissioner race.

After discussing several scenarios, the State Board of Elections came to an agreement here Tuesday to hold a special election on Jan. 11 to break the near stalemate between Democratic incumbent Britt Cobb and Republican challenger Steve Troxler. Following the Nov. 2 General Election and a round of recounts, Troxler holds a narrow 2,353-vote lead over Cobb. The race attracted over 3.3 million voters.

Under normal circumstances, that margin – now legally verified by the State Board – would be enough to declare Troxler as the winner. However, normal circumstances are far removed from this particular race.

As did all counties during a period prior to the General Election, registered Carteret voters had the opportunity to cast their ballots using the &uot;One Stop&uot; method. A total 4,438 Carteret voters chose to vote early. However, those votes were lost due a computer malfunction.

Since the lost number of ballots represents more than Troxler’s current lead over Cobb, the State Board decided to only let Carteret County voters decide the race. However, not all of the county’s registered voters will be allowed to participate.

That unprecedented decision will target only those voters whose ballots were wiped out by the computer glitch. Those voters are identifiable by name since they are required to fill out paperwork prior to using the &uot;One Stop&uot; method.

But there’s more with the State Board’s historic decision. In addition to those using the &uot;One-Stop&uot; method, registered voters in Carteret County who chose not to cast a ballot on Nov. 2 will now receive a second chance. They are now eligible to vote in this two-man, one-seat race on Jan. 11. Carteret voters that cast ballots on Nov. 2 are not eligible to participate in the special election.

Cobb and Troxler have 10 days following Tuesday’s meeting to appeal the State Board’s decision.

The vote totals from Jan. 11 will be added to the already counted and certified Carteret County ballots from Nov. 2. Then, Carteret’s new total will be added to the statewide results from where a winner will be officially declared.

According to the Carteret County Board of Elections website, there are 43,727 registered voters in the county. Of that number, 23,854 cast a ballot on Nov. 2 in the Agriculture Commissioner’s race. Of the votes that were recorded, Troxler was named on 14,342 ballots while Cobb received 9,512 votes.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting in Raleigh, the State Board officially declared June Atkinson, a Democrat, as the winner over Republican Bill Fletcher in a hotly contested race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Statewide recounts showed Atkinson with an 8,488-vote lead over Fletcher. That race also drew over 3.3 million voters.

However, Fletcher refuses to concede. He remains firm in his allegations that nearly 10,000 provisional votes cast on Nov. 2 are invalid under state constitution. In particular, Fletcher is saying the provisional ballots cast in the wrong precincts statewide on Election Day should be thrown out of the vote total.

Fletcher appealed the State Election Board’s decision, saying he would ask the state’s court system to delay the Board’s official certification of the race until a legal decision is reached concerning the provisional ballots in question.