One man, one vote, many Capes

In the Asheville City Council race, only 26 percent of the eligible voters cast ballots.

In case you missed it, there was an election two weeks ago. And apparently, a whole lot of folks did: In the Asheville City Council race, only about a quarter of the eligible voters cast ballots, according to the Buncombe County Board of Elections.

First across the finish line was incumbent Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy, who netted 8,290 votes (there are 50,534 registered city voters). Brownie Newman took second place in his third run for Council, persuading 7,176 people that he belongs in city government. Rounding out the winners’ circle was tire dealer Jan Davis, with 6,290 votes.

And though the results were not exactly shocking (the top three finishers in the primary were Newman, Bellamy and Davis, in that order), there was a bit of suspense when the votes were being tallied on election night. Political newcomer Chris Pelly advanced from his sixth-place showing in the primary to fourth place in the general election, surpassing repeat candidate Rod Whiteside and incumbent Council member Jim Ellis. At one point in the late going, Pelly — who lives in Haw Creek — was within 500 votes of Davis.

Pelly eventually dropped behind by 882 votes, but his strong finish just might lay the groundwork for a future campaign, particularly considering Davis’ considerable advantage in name recognition. And then there’s the matter of money. Before the election, Xpress asked the candidates what they expected to spend in pursuit of a Council seat. Pelly pegged his campaign costs at a little more than $12,000 — roughly one-half of Davis’ estimate. Bellamy, too, expected to get a lot of bang for her bucks, estimated at about $15,000. Newman, who flooded local mailboxes with campaign literature, may prove to be the big spender, with estimated expenses of roughly $40,000. The actual figures won’t be known until January, when final campaign-finance reports are filed with the Board of Elections.

Asked what had helped him close the gap, Pelly credited Match Our Mountains, a newly formed, grassroots political action committee. MOM spokesperson Lewis Lankford said the group had “sought out and supported candidates that will conserve mountain resources, support planned economic growth, and address environmental issues such as clean air.” Lankford called MOM a “people’s PAC” — a coalition of small-business owners and concerned citizens, each of whom contributed $100 or less. All told, the group collected roughly $12,000, which it used to support its endorsements of Bellamy, Newman and Pelly. Besides giving each candidate $1,600, the PAC sent a mass mailing to 1,400 city residents and hand-distributed fliers and pamphlets citywide, reported Lankford.

Bellamy, meanwhile, credited her first-place finish to the work of her support team. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she declared at a postelection victory party, motioning to a roomful of beaming volunteers. The Vice Mayor also said her surge into first place was the direct result of a last-minute “get out the vote” effort: “We’ve had volunteers driving people to the polls, handing out literature at bus stops and churches, and encouraging people to vote. It definitely helped.”

In interviews after the election, both Whiteside and Ellis said this would be their last run for Council.

The new City Council members will be sworn in Dec. 2.

Woodfin: A hotbed of progressive politics?

It seems to be forever in the shadow of its big-city neighbor. But in this election, little ol’ Woodfin stole the spotlight from Asheville with a 34 percent turnout, compared to Asheville’s 26 percent.

It wasn’t the municipal elections that brought out the voters, though. What bolstered the turnout were matters concerning more elemental substances: logs and water. In addition to the mayoral race — in which incumbent Homer Honeycutt was roundly defeated by Buncombe County Director of Emergency Management Jerry VeHaun — three seats on the Woodfin Water and Sewer Commission were up for grabs.

In the past, the commission has drawn little attention for the most part. But several months ago, when its members presented to the public a plan to log the Woodfin watershed — the water source for most of Woodfin and parts of North Asheville — some town residents cried foul. And they backed up that outrage by voting out incumbents Russell Rhodes, Hugh Roberson and Danny Tolar, replacing them with Henry Chandler, James Latimore and Robin Cape, all of whom favored exploring other options. As one Woodfin voter told Xpress outside the polls, “It’s time to get rid of the good ol’ boy network that’s been running this water board for decades.”

Cape managed to claim her seat without even appearing on the ballot. Marvin Hollifield of the Buncombe County Board of Elections said her successful write-in campaign is the first he’s seen in his 25 years on the job.

Still, Cape had to wait three days to find out the results of the vote. Although computerized voting machines produce an unconfirmed result mere hours after the polls close, the Board of Elections is also required to conduct a “canvassing” of write-in ballots that, under state law, must be done three days after the vote. And despite the fact that Cape is an easy name to spell, and the candidate in question is the only Cape in Buncombe County, there was some controversy surrounding the tally.

A printout produced by the Board of Elections showed that voters had typed in more than two dozen different spellings of her name on the ballots, including: Robin Cape, Robyn Cape, Robin Cabe, Robincape, Robin-Cape, Cape, Robin, Cape-Robin and so on. And Board of Elections chairperson Jones Byrd wanted to know whether they could count all of the various spellings. Shortly before the tallying began, Byrd received an e-mail from the state Board of Elections informing him that only spellings receiving five or more votes could be counted. The ruling troubled Cape, who was present for the count: “This isn’t right,” she declared, adding: “Every vote needs to be counted. It’s clear who these people intended to vote for. … This is why people are disenfranchised. Just look at what happened in Florida.”

Cape also noted that many people, after exiting the polls, had complained that it was too dark in the booth to see the keyboard and that the instructions were vague and confusing. Nonetheless, the board found that 281 people had voted for Robin Cape; 44 had voted for Cape, Robin; 43 had voted for RobinCape; and 22 had voted for Robin-Cape — enough to secure her the third seat on the commission.

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