60 votes separate commissioner candidates

Published 3:45 pm Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Two, two, two recounts in one?

Beaufort County’s Board of Elections is waiting for instruction from the North Carolina State Board of Elections before it schedules a local recount and a statewide recount. One recount involves two candidates in the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners contest, in which four of the board’s seven seats were available this election cycle. The other recount involves the state’s gubernatorial race, in which Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general, leads incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by about 7,000 votes.

State law allows a recount in a statewide race when candidates are within 10,000 votes or less of each other.

The county board could end up conducting two separate recounts instead of conducting a recount in the local race and in statewide races at the same time, according to Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director. Instructions from the state board are expected later this week, she said.

A delayed recount in the commissioners contest could postpone when the four top vote-getters in that race take office. Under state law, they are supposed to take their oaths of office in early December.

“Regarding recounts, no county can conduct a recount for a statewide candidate until directed to do so by the State Board. We have received requests for statewide recounts from the Pat McCrory Committee and Chuck Stuber for State Auditor. However, until all counties have completed their canvass, the State is not allowed to grant any request for a statewide recount. In addition, we understand that a number of counties have active recount demands in single-county contests. If a county wishes to conduct all recounts at once, your board can wait to perform its single-county recount until it performs the recount in the statewide contest(s). If statewide recounts are granted, we will provide specific instructions including dates to conduct such recounts,” reads an email from Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the state board, to the directors of the 100 county elections boards in the state. “If statewide recounts are granted, we will provide specific instructions including dates to conduct such recounts.”

Hopkins said she’s consulting with County Manager Brian Alligood about the possibility of conducting the recount in the commissioners contest. Conducting the local recount would cost about $1,000, she said. Once a decision is made about a local recount, her office will inform the public, Hopkins said.

Last week after the county board conducted its canvass, Commissioner Gary Brinn and challenger Derik Davis, both Republicans, each gained on vote from seven provisional ballots approved by the board. Updated official vote totals show Brinn as the fourth-highest vote-getter in the commissioners contest, just 60 votes ahead of Derik Davis, who finished fifth among seven candidates. Brinn collected 3,290 votes to Davis’ 3,230 votes. The difference between their votes is less than 1 percent. Both are Republicans.

Several hours after the canvass, Davis filed his written request for a recount in the commissioners race. Under North Carolina law (General Statute 163-182), a candidate can demand a recount if the difference between the votes for that candidate and the votes of the winning candidate is less than 1 percent of the total votes cast in a non-statewide race, or in the case of a multi-seat ballot item, 1 percent of the votes cast for those two candidates.

During a recount, elections officials — elections staff and chief judges and judges from polling places — feed all approved ballots into voting tabulators. It’s not unusual for a recount to result in vote totals changing by an extremely small number of votes, if those vote totals change at all, according to Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has filed a recount request with the state board, as did Republican Chuck Stuber, who is in a close contest with Democratic incumbent Beth Wood in the state auditor race. Stuber is in a close race with incumbent Beth Wood for the state auditor position. Wood holds a lead of about 4,200 votes.

Some of McCrory’s critics, such as Democracy North Carolina, contend his campaign team is trying to delay certification of the election results until the North Carolina General Assembly convenes in January and having the Republican-controlled General Assembly choose the next governor. There is speculation that the delayed counting of some votes in Durham County could trigger the rare occurrence of the General Assembly intervening in contest elections involving Council of State contests and state legislators.

The General Assembly has selected a Council of State member in the past, most recently in 2005. In the Nov.3, 2004, general election, June Atkinson was elected as superintendent of public instruction, in a close contest ultimately decided by the General Assembly on Aug. 23, 2005. After being re-elected in 2008 and 2015, Atkinson was defeated in the Nov. 8 general election by Republican Mark Johnson by about 55,000 votes.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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