The Buncombe County Board of Elections voted 2-1 to deny Republican Christina Kelley G. Merrill’s protest over ballots cast by Warren Wilson College residents and her request that they be stricken from the certified election results.
In response to the Nov. 28 decision, Merrill said she would appeal it and file a protest with the North Carolina Board of Elections.
“I don’t feel that there was a resolution here tonight,” said Merrill, who’s hoping to represent District 2 on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. “There’s still a lot of questions… Voters of our county need to know that every vote is counted properly.”
She said that her legal team wasn’t allowed to present evidence and provide testimony that could help her case if granted an appeal by the state board.
However, after a tense three-hour hearing on Merrill’s protest, the local board ruled that no laws were violated and that Merrill’s charges didn’t warrant any further investigation or action. The three-member board voted along party lines, with Democrats Jones Byrd and Lucy Smith denying the protest over the objection of Republican Robert Van Wagner.
The certified results currently show Democrat Ellen Frost winning a seat on the board in District 2 with a 13-vote edge over Merrill. Newsweek recently ranked Warren Wilson the most liberal college in the country, so it’s likely that canceling any ballots from its residents would help Merrill make up her 13-vote deficit.
Throughout the meeting, Merrill’s legal team and supporters questioned the process used to determine which district the college residents lived in. Some, including Wagner, even questioned the rights of Warren Wilson students to be registered to vote in Buncombe County at all, speculating that it would be more fair if they were registered to vote in the cities they lived in before attending the college.
At one point, an attendee in support of Merrill looked back at a group of Warren Wilson students in the packed meeting room and flashed a piece of paper on which she had written, “You are a law breaker.”
However, Caroline Duble, a student at the school, then stood up and told the board that Warren Wilson students care deeply about the local community they live in and call home. “It’s a common misconception that students don’t care about local politics,” she added.
Meanwhile, Frost’s attorney, Bob Deutsch, argued that “everything in this protest is just a bald allegation.”
Before voting to deny Merrill’s request, Smith said she agreed that the college students “did nothing wrong,” adding, “I don’t think anybody’s done anything fraudulent. I’m excited to see young people come out and vote.”
After the decision, Frost said she was encouraged to see the students’ votes be counted. “The people in this county pride themselves on having their right to vote protected,” she said.
Meanwhile, a District 2 recount requested separately by Merrill was automatically granted because of the small margin of voters separating her from a seat on the board. It started today and should be completed by Friday, Nov. 30.
If the final results continue to show Frost ahead, Democrats will control four of the board’s seven seats. The new board members are scheduled to be sworn in on Dec. 3.
For more details on Merrill’s protest see our previous story here.