Richmond County Daily Journal
Having a Republican on the Richmond County Board of Commissioners could be a short-lived phenomena depending on how provisional ballots play out next week.
As many as 135 votes could be added to the unofficial county totals Tuesday - enough to give Commissioner Pam Dillman a reprieve and swing the race for county commission.
Should Dillman, a Democrat, receive a majority of the provisional votes, she could overcome the 91-vote margin she lost by to Republican Ben Moss.
The next closest candidate was Commissioner Thad Ussery, who finished 56 votes ahead of Moss and 147 votes ahead of Dillman.
Notice went out Friday that the Richmond County Board of Elections will hold a special meeting and recount at the Board of Elections office on Hancock Street in Rockingham at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
There are three items on the agenda: the discretionary recount of Browder Park votes, determining the eligibility of provisional ballots and a review of an absentee ballot application received after 5 p.m. the day before the election.
County Elections Director Connie Kelly explained the recount of Browder Park votes is in response to technical problems with voting equipment on election day, but provisional ballots have the greatest potential of affecting the election.
There were 890 votes cast at Browder Park.
There are 134 ballots the three-person county election board will determine whether to accept or not, along with one application received after business hours the day before the election.
“That doesn’t mean that they’ll all be counted, but that’s how many we have to verify,” Kelly said.
No other county races should change as a result.
The two county commission candidates who could switch places next week after provisional ballots are counted responded Friday to the news.
“I wasn’t going to go against the results anyway,” Dillman said of her 91-vote loss to Republican Ben Moss on election night. “That was the vote and I have to respect it. I was only on the board because of the citizens, and if they didn’t want me in I’ll accept that.”
She said she would “certainly” accept the office if it turned out the voters re-elected her, however.
“I love this county and I love the citizens, and I’ll be there for them whether I’m on the county commission or not,” Dillman said. “I’m all for the citizens, but I’m also all for the new ones that are going to the commission. I think if you’re going to put people in office, you need to support him.”
Moss also said he would respect the wishes of the voters.
“I’m a person of faith, and if God wants me to have it, I’m sure it will work out,” Moss said. “Don’t get me wrong, I want the seat, but I also want all the votes in Richmond County to be counted.”
In the big picture, he said 91 votes is a slim margin of victory.
“I just want them to work within the process, and if it doesn’t work out it just wasn’t meant to be,” Moss said.
Meanwhile, it appears the state’s pilot Instant Run-Off Voting program may have confused some voters, further necessitating a recount of Browder Park’s 890 votes.
The state used a pilot instant run-off voting program to avoid a second election to determine the winners of the Court of Appeals judicial races.
Results will be determined on Nov. 29.
The run-off race will likely be between judicial candidate Cressie Thigpen and Doug McCollough, though the state board of elections hasn’t yet confirmed it.
On election day, the IRV votes were recorded, but poll workers were only required to report the first choice votes. Once they are tabulated statewide, it will be known whether it is necessary to use the second and third choices or not.
Before the election, North Carolina State Board of Elections General Counsel Don Wright said the purpose of the IRV voting method is to avoid having costly second primary elections that usually post low voter turnout.
“IRV voting does eliminate the need for a second primary - that’s its whole purpose,” Wright said. “Is it new? Yes. As to whether the voters like it - that will be up to them to decide.”
This year’s second primary between Republican U.S. House candidates Tim D’Annunzio and Harold Johnson and Democrat U.S. Senator candidates Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham cost the county about $16,000 and only turned out about 5 percent of its registered voters. That works out to more than $11 per vote.
The estimated cost in the state was between $3.5 and $5 million for the second primary, and it turned out roughly 4.5 percent of the state’s voters.
The Richmond County Board of Elections filed a request with the state that less costly alternatives be researched and developed.
The state agreed. Thursday and Friday, however, state election officials were unavailable for comment as they worked through issues in the 2nd Congressional District.
Not everyone is on board with IRV as the most desirable alternative to second primaries, however.
North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting Director Joyce McCloy believes the system is in violation of state election law.
“There are a few different laws this clashes with, including the way votes are supposed to be counted and the use of software that isn’t federally certified,” she said during the state’s early voting period.
McCloy also disagreed with the state’s assertion the method is a cost-cutting measure, saying new voting machines would be required to legitimize the process and they could cost more than $65 million.
County elections officials expressed concern the new voting method could confuse voters, which did bear out on election day by ballots being returned to voters as over-votes.
“If not all, I can say that the majority of over-votes were in the Court of Appeals judicial race,” Kelly said Friday.
Following an over-vote, the voter was asked whether they wanted to keep the ballot with the error or fill out a new ballot.
This process was interrupted at Browder Park, however, when voting equipment malfunctioned and 19 votes had to be hand-counted as well as some stored in an auxiliary machine that didn’t count the vote right away.
“We decided to go ahead and re-fed all of the precinct’s 890 votes into the machine, and come up with a clearer number to certify,” Kelly said.
The results of Richmond County’s 2010 General Election will be canvassed and certified on Nov. 12.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.