Stickers saying "I voted" are handed out at polling places to voters in North Carolina. File photo by Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the results of a March 29 recount, which confirmed the earlier vote totals.

Two close Western North Carolina primary battles weren’t decided until Tuesday, March 22, when remaining absentee and provisional ballots were counted as county Boards of Election canvassed the results.

In both cases these late ballots led to a dramatic finish, though in different ways.

The results in each contest, a Graham County Board of Commissioners race and a Jackson County Board of Education race, remained so close even after Tuesday’s canvassing that the trailing candidates had the right to seek a recount by 5 p.m. Wednesday, which at least one of them did.

Graham County

Lynn Cody, R-Robbinsville, ended election night, March 15, with 805 votes in his bid for re-election to the Graham County Board of Commissioners in last week’s Republican primary. But challenger Dale E. Wiggins, R-Robbinsville, was just behind him at 801 votes, making the race too close to call.

Once the Graham County Board of Elections finished canvassing the vote on Tuesday, March 22, Wiggins had moved into the lead and was the apparent winner.

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A few late absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day had trickled in over the next week and a few provisional ballots needed to be sorted out. These ballots went 9-2 for Wiggins, giving him a 810 to 807 victory.

Although Cody was legally entitled to request a recount with such a narrow margin, the Board of Elections Director Teresa Garland initially told Carolina Public Press on Tuesday that he had communicated through a family member that he would not do that. However, he had until the end of business on Wednesday to request the recount if he changed his mind, and Garland contact CPP Wednesday morning to report that he had done just that.

The recount on Monday, March 29, confirmed precisely the same 810-807 vote total as the canvassing found. Garland told CPP in advance of the recount that was going to be the first she had overseen.

Wiggins will join the first- and second-place Republican finishers in the three-seat commission race on the November ballot as Democrat John Lovin of Robbinsville attempts to win a seat.

The top three finishers in the four-way general election contest will serve on the Graham County Board of Commissioners.

Jackson County

Wes Jamison, D-Sylva, led a field of three candidates for the District 3 seat on the Jackson County Board of Education when the polls closed on election night with 2,548 votes to 2,528 and 2,438 for his opponents. But the three-way race was nearly evenly split, with Jamison holding just a 20-vote edge over Carol Ann Riser DeHart, R-Webster.

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With more ballots to be counted at the March 22 canvassing, no result could be declared. Sure enough, DeHart picked up 47 votes to move past Jamison’s Election Day vote total. Third-place finisher Becky Bryson Hester, D-Sylva, picked up even more with 49 additional votes.

But Jamison also gained additional votes in the final count, 61, to widen his overall margin of victory.

Even so, Jamison and DeHart remain separated by less than 1 percent, so she can request a recount by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Because this was a nonpartisan race, the March result determines the winner and the seat will not appear on the November ballot.

Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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