Republican Chrisina Kelley G. Merrill says she’ll continue fighting for a seat on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, despite the Jan. 15 swearing-in of her opponent, Democrat Ellen Frost.
An unofficial tally of results on election night, Nov. 6, showed Merrill with a lead, but it was erased in subsequent tallies when a number of provisional ballots cast by residents of the left-leaning Warren Wilson College were added. A Dec. 7 hand recount of all the District 2 ballots showed Frost with a 18 vote win, giving Democrats a 4-3 majority of the board’s seats.
The certification of the results had been stalled for two months pending a series of appeals by Merrill, who charged that many ballots of the college’s residents were illegally included in the results. However, both the county and state board of elections denied her request for evidentiary hearings on the matter. And on Jan. 15, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway denied her request to prevent a certificate of election from being issued in the District 2 race, noting in his decision that he thinks it’s unlikely she’ll prevail in any further appeal.
Bob Deutsch, lawyer for Frost, says he believes any legal actions Merrill might take after his client was sworn in would be moot.
However, Merrill maintains that “nothing’s changed in terms of what we’re seeking, which is a hearing.” She says the point of asking for the judge to maintain a stay on certifying the election results “was to avoid complicating the situation more by swearing someone in before we had a [evidentiary] hearing.” Her next step, she says, is “to get together with counsel and see what, if anything, would be next.”
“It’s still highly irregular that nearly 200 voters were moved from District 1 to District 2 just days before the election,” she asserts. “I’m going to fight for what’s right. And the voters of this county can count on that. Whether we win or lose, integrity is important.”