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Elections results in several close races in cities and towns across Western North Carolina came into sharper focus this week as county boards of elections canvassed the results.
However, in one case that process resulted in a tie that hadn’t previously existed.
In most smaller towns and relatively few voters, even a single vote of difference in a multi-seat race was enough to avoid a recount under state rules. But a few places did have results that would appear to allow for a recount if the trailing candidate requests it by 5 p.m. Thursday.
During Tuesday’s canvassing process, the county election boards decided on whether any provisional ballots should be accepted. They also counted late-arriving absentee ballots that were postmarked on or before Election Day in municipalities that allowed absentee ballots. Write-in votes were also further evaluated in case any ended up counting for candidates who appeared on the ballot or there were candidates who were not listed on the ballot who had enough votes to contend for seats.
With the canvassing complete, the results listed here are official. Previously reported results in other races from WNC counties that were listed as “unofficial” have now become official, though actual vote totals may have changed during the canvassing process without affecting the outcome of those elections.
Candidates whose names appear in bold below are the apparent winners, barring any recounts or election protests.
BEECH MOUNTAIN ALDERMEN (3 SEATS): The town of Beech Mountain is located in both Avery and Watauga counties, so totals from both areas had to be combined to find the final result in this eight-way contest. There were no changes in the original count. The top two vote-recipients were Renee Catiglione with 132 and Wendel L. Sauer with 121. The third-place contest for the final seat was very close with Rick Owen at 72 votes, just ahead of Carl Marquardt with 67. Based on Carolina Public Press’ estimate, this would not be close enough to trigger the trailing candidate’s right to seek a recount. State statute says that in a multi-seat race like this one, the difference between the two candidates must be less than 1 percent of the total votes for those candidates. With 139 votes for the two, the threshold for a recount would be less than 1.39 votes. Since there are 5 votes separating them, a recount would not be triggered.
CROSSNORE ALDERMAN (3 SEATS): The canvassing did not result in any changes from election night in this Avery County town. Eddie Yarber led with 36, followed by Ginny Smith with 30. Write-in candidate Dan Vance was third with 24, narrowly ahead of Dale Henson with 23. Because this is a multi-seat election, the rule for a recount to be triggered would require a difference of no more than 1 percent of the votes cast for the two candidates in question, which in this case would be 0.47 votes. As a result, only in case of a tie would this vote be close enough to allow for a recount, according to CPP estimates. One vote wins it.
ELK PARK COUNCIL (5 seats): The canvassing process did result in small changes in the vote totals in this nine-way race. This did not affect the order in which the candidates placed, but affects the calculation of whether a recount is in order. The top five were Daniel Boone 32, Joel Whitley, 30, Tommy Norman 26, Tommy Eller 24, and Michael Smith, 22. However Brad Benfield and Mike Whittington each finished with 20. Using the rule for a multi-seat election, two votes is a large enough margin to avoid triggering a recount, according to CPP’s estimate.
FONTANA DAM COUNCIL (4 SEATS): With just one candidate on the ballot for four seats, this election was bound to go down to the write-ins. A record turnout of 10 showed strong interest in picking the council for this small town. After canvassing on Tuesday, just one clear winner emerged — Sara Locke, the candidate listed on the ballot had 10 votes. Top write-in vote-recipient Tracy Williams had 6 votes. He was followed by Rob Hardy with 7 and Greg Corvelle with 2. However, Hardy was technically ineligible in the election because he has never changed his voter registration to Fontana Dam, though he does reside there. Graham County Elections Director Teresa Garland told CPP on Thursday that filling the final seat will be up to the elected members of the council who can appoint someone. They could choose to honor the voters’ intent and appoint Hardy. Or they could appoint someone else.
LAKE SANTEETLAH COUNCIL (5 SEATS): The canvassing process added a number of additional votes in this very close eight-way contest. Jim Hager took the lead with 27, followed by Bob Crabtree with 26, John Garland 25, Bob Wehr 22, and Connie Gross 18. Four candidates finished just out of contention in the low double-figures. The four-vote difference between Gross the sixth-place finisher, Roger Carlton at 14, appears too high to force a recount under the state’s rules for a multi-seat contest.
FOREST HILLS COUNCIL (2 SEATS): Canvassing in Forest Hills confirmed that a write-in vote recipient qualified for the second seat on this council. The only candidate appearing on the ballot, Ron Mau, led with 23 votes. Debbie Rowland led all write-in finishers with 6 votes. An assortment of other people were listed on the 11 other write-in votes.
SYLVA COUNCIL (3 SEATS): Canvassing added several votes to totals in this close five-way contest. Unlike many towns in which canvassing made the result clear, in this case it created a tie for the third seat. David Nestler led with 182 votes, followed by Harold Hensley at 163. Votes were added to the totals for both Greg McPherson and Charles Schmidt who are now tied at 112. McPherson held a one-vote lead in the original count. A tie in a municipal race is decided a contest of chance conducted by the county board of elections. This resulted in a victory for McPherson on a two out of three coin toss, Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl told CPP. Because the vote total showed a 0 percent different between the candidates, Schmidt would have standing to request a recount of votes by 5 p.m . Thursday, though Lovedahl said he had not done so as of 11:30 a.m.
WEBSTER COUNCIL (2 SEATS): Top finisher Billie Jo Bryson picked up an additional vote in the canvassing process for 14 total. The second-place finisher was Larry Phillips who received 10 write-in votes. Although six write-in votes went to another person and 13 more were spread among various people, none were close enough to affect the outcome.
FRANKLIN ALDERMAN (3 SEATS): The canvassing process resulted in several additional votes being included in the totals for this six-way race, but didn’t affect the order of finish. Brandon McMahan led with 230, followed by Joe Collins with 219 and Adam Kimsey with 168. Joyce Handley in fourth-place was a bit closer to Kimsey after the canvassing at 160. Because this is a multi-seat election, the margin to trigger a recount would be one percent of the vote totals for Kimsey and Handley, or 3.28 votes. By CPP’s estimate, the eight-vote difference between these finisher is too much to force a recount. Regardless, Macon County Deputy Director of Elections Gary Tallent told CPP after the initial count that Handley had publicly stated she was not planning to seek a recount even if the results were close enough.
SPRUCE PINE MAYOR: This race was a 258-258 tie when the polls closed. A hand recount last week gave Darla Phillips Harding a 260-258 edge over Larry McKinney. Canvassing moved McKinney up to 259. With just one vote separating the candidates, the difference is well under 1 percent of total votes cast, meaning McKinney is entitled to seek a further recount by 5 p.m. on Thursday. A Board of Elections employee with whom CPP spoke at noon Thursday said he had not requested a further recount so far.
SALUDA COMMISSIONER (2 SEATS): Due to a communication problem between Polk County and the N.C. Board of Elections, incorrect totals were reported on Election Day in this race with much higher numbers than the voters who actually participated. Polk County Elections Specialist Mary Pruitt talked with CPP about the situation on Thursday. She said that the problem has been correct and new totals reflect both the correct count from Election Day and the result of canvassing on Tuesday. Stanley Walker led with 142 votes, followed by Leon Morgan with 107. These totals also include any votes from the small portion of Saluda that is in Henderson County. Write-in candidate Lynn Cass received 80 votes and did not affect the outcome of the race.
SPINDALE COMMISSIONER (3 SEATS): The canvassing process changed the vote totals but not the apparent outcome in this contest between three officials candidates that was won by a write-in candidate. James Hamilton lost a write-in vote in the canvassing, but still led the field with 214 votes. Behind him were Glen Harmon with 199 votes and Nancy B. Walker with 168 votes. Tom Roberson, who picked up one vote, was close behind at 161. However, the seven-vote difference is too much to allow for a recount request, which would have required a margin of no more than 3.29 votes in this multi-seat race, according to CPP’s estimate.
BRYSON CITY MAYOR: The top candidates both picked up votes in the canvassing process for this close contest, but leader Tom Sutton picked up more, bringing his total to 106 versus 100 for Catherine Gantt Cuthbertson. The initial vote count had Cuthbertson just barely outside the margin of difference to seek a recount, but the new totals are far enough apart that there should be no question. Had only Cuthbertson picked up a vote in the canvassing, she would have been eligible to call for a recount.
BRYSON CITY ALDERMAN (2 SEATS): Candidates did pick up votes in the canvassing, moving the top two finishers into a tie at 95 apiece for Jim Gribble and Heidi Ramsey-Woodard. Kate Welch also picked up a vote, but at 92 total in this multi-seat race, her three-vote deficit is two large to force a recount, CPP estimates.
BEECH MOUNTAIN: See Avery County above. This town resides in both counties.