State election board dismisses Merrill’s protest

Buncombe County District 2 candidates Mike Fryar and Ellen Frost aren’t likely to be sworn in any time soon as the newest commissioners. Dec. 13, the bipartisan North Carolina Board of Elections voted unanimously to dismiss Christina Kelley G. Merrill's charge that local elections officials violated state laws in counting the ballots of Warren Wilson College students.

With a series of recounts determining that 18 votes separate her from Frost’s apparent second-place finish and a seat on the board, Merrill says she'll appeal the decision and take her case to the N.C. superior court in Wake County. She calls the state board's meeting "a political hearing" and expresses hope that the court will be unbiased and let her present as yet-unheard evidence. "We're still asking for the same thing we've been asking for since day one: We want a hearing on these Warren Wilson voters who were moved five days before the election from District 1 to District 2," she maintains.

The small liberal arts school is divided between commissioner Districts 1 and 2. Newsweek recently ranked the school the most liberal college in the country; throwing out any ballots from its residents would likely help Merrill.

And if she wins a seat on the board, it will have a Republican majority for the first since 1988.

But election officials won't certify any District 2 winners until Merrill's appeal to the courts is settled, says Johnnie McLean, deputy director of administration for the state board.

"My biggest concern now is there's a third of Buncombe County not being represented on the board of commissioners," says Frost. "The election's over, and a winner has been decided. … Enough’s, enough."

Winners from other districts were sworn in Dec. 3 and held a meeting the next day to set their own pay and rule on several rezoning issues. Commissioners’ next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 15.

Fryar, a Republican and the first-place winner in all vote tallies for District 2, is waiting on the sidelines. Noting that he thought the issue would be decided, one way or other, on Dec. 13, Fryar says that the state board's unanimous, bipartisan decision "made a little bit of a statement." However, with the results so tight, he doesn't blame Merrill for fighting on.

"That's her decision," he says, adding, "Ellen, right now, at this point, she has won it, but it can always flip, I guess."

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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