More than two months after Election Day, Republican Mike Fryar will finally be sworn in and start serving on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners this week.
The North Carolina Board of Elections unanimously directed the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 7 to certify him as the first-place winner in District 2. However, the the second-place finisher remains in question — as does which political party will ultimately control a majority of the board’s seats. Under a new election system, the top vote-getter in each district wins a four-year term and the second-place winner earns a two-year term.
Several vote recounts have shown Fryar in the top spot.
However, under direction from the state board, no one had been certified in the district pending a series of legal challenges by Republican Christina Kelley G. Merrill. A hand recount of the ballots showed her just 18 votes behind tentative second-place finisher, Democrat Ellen Frost.
Meanwhile, Fryar says that, before the meeting, he spoke with Larry Leake, chair of the N.C. Board of Elections, and made the case that the number of ballots Merrill is disputing is less than the number it would take to overturn him as the top vote-getter, leaving no reason not to certify him.
Leake agreed, subsequently calling the special Jan. 7 teleconference meeting during which he urged the other board members to follow suit.
“I hadn’t thought about the issue until Mr. Fryar called me,” he said. “Mr. Fryar is the clear winner. I think he should be so certified.”
No one on the board, which is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, disagreed.
However, Democrat Carol Peterson, the District 2 candidate who has finished fourth place by small margins in all the vote counts, participated in the call, raising a question about the move: Is there any chance legal action by Merrill could result in a revote in the entire district?
Fryar became visibly agitated by the question as he listened via teleconference at the Buncombe County Election Services Department.
Leak responded by noting that any kind of revote would be “highly unlikely, but not impossible.” However, he added that even if a revote were ordered, not all four candidates would be able to participate.
“Obviously, this was a terribly close election,” he noted. “But no matter how close you get, you don’t take a seat away from someone who’s rightfully won to determine the other seat. In my mind, there is no such possibility.”
“I appreciate what Carol was trying to do,” added Fryar after the state board made its decision. “But there’s a difference between first and fourth.”
Fryar said the election process has been frustrating. “The state didn’t know a thing. … I don’t know how this got screwed up, but it got screwed up big time,” he asserted.
However, he added that he’s now relieved, and already has tentative plans to be sworn in Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m.
“I’m glad this decision finally came down,” he said. “All I’ve done is wait, and I’ve tried to be patient. As far as I’m concerned, it’s time.”
Fryar plans to be sworn in in the Buncombe County Commissioners’ chambers at 200 College St. That means the the board of commissioners will have three Democrats and three Republicans when it meets next on Tuesday, Jan. 15.