Frost and Merrill debate voting rights at Warren Wilson College

A capacity crowd of students attended a candidate forum at Warren Wilson College. Buncombe County Board of Commissioner candidates from left to right: Ellen Frost, Brownie Newman, Christina Merrill. Photo by Petras Barcas

Students at Warren Wilson College delivered a contentious 18-vote win to Ellen Frost in 2012, giving Democrats a one-seat majority on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. She faces a rematch with Republican opponent Christina Merrill this year for control of District 2, and the two candidates returned to the decisive campus in Swannanoa for an Oct. 29 debate.

Merrill was asked by students at the event why she took legal action to strike their ballots in the 2012 contest. “It got spinned in the media that, ‘oh they’re trying to disenfranchise college students.’ I thought that was the silliest thing, because my sons are college students,” she replied. “All we were trying to do is make sure those votes were coming from the people they said they were coming from — that it wasn’t an effort to manipulate the outcome of an election.”

The 2012 election was the first in which the Warren Wilson campus was divided between Commissioner Districts 1 and 2, due to redistricting. But as of Election Day that year, most residents were registered to vote at the address of the school’s mailing facility rather than their dorms, as state law requires. And several had cast ballots at incorrect precincts during early voting. That left Election Services scrambling to determine which ballots should count in each race.

During subsequent recounts, the Buncombe County Board of Elections added a number of provisional ballots from campus to the final tally, reversing an unofficial election-night count that had Merrill in the lead. Merrill responded with legal action, but eventually the bipartisan State Board of Elections  voted unanimously to dismiss her charge that local election officials had violated any laws.

Merrill later filed a legal brief supporting changes to state election laws that will prevent ballots cast at the wrong precinct from being counted in final tallies, as had happened at Warren Wilson.

“I believe that I was harmed by, and possibly lost because of, the same-day registration during the early-voting period combined with the lack of a photo ID requirement,” Merrill is quoted as saying in the Raleigh News and Observer.  “I believe that, because of these laws, a transient student population, of motivated, partisan voters, was able to deceive poll workers about which dorm they supposedly lived in, in order to oppose my candidacy.”

In a campaign email newsletter, Frost highlighted this quote by Merrill. And in front of the packed room of Warren Wilson students Oct. 29, Frost said the voting rules Merrill supports are “horrible” measures aimed at “voter suppression.” She noted that the law doesn’t allow college ID cards to be used as voting ID. (The voter ID provisions do not take effect until 2016).

In a previous interview with Xpress, Merrill said she doesn’t think college students should be allowed to register to vote where they attend school unless they change their permanent address to correspond to that location. And at the Warren Wilson forum, Merrill said that beyond helping prevent voter fraud, “it’s important in 2014 to have ID so you can function in society.”  When critics talk about suppressing minority votes, she added that as a woman of hispanic descent, “I’m one of the people they talk about when they talk about minorities.”

Meanwhile, Frost said “this election is pivotal to make sure we keep going forward.”

She touted a record of support for public schools and economic development, stressing that a top priority in a new term would be “advocating for living wage jobs.”

But Merrill criticized her for voting in 2013 for a budget that included a property tax rate increase. That budget also included a raise for all county employees, including commissioners, which Merrill called “an ethical and integrity issue.”

“I would not take a raise and at the same time raise taxes,” she said.

Frost said the tax rate hike was necessary to fill a void left by decreasing property values and unfunded state and federal mandates.

Merrill said she comes from a poor background, including time as a single mom living in a Fairview trailer. If elected, she’d be fiscally conservative, she said, explaining: “Those hard times have really made me appreciate the value of the dollar.”

District 1 Commissioner Brownie Newman also participated in the forum, although the Democrat faces no Republican opposition on the ballot this year. Newman, a Warren Wilson graduate, used his time to repeatedly advocate for Frost.

Newman cited the county’s a AAA credit rating in his argument that he and Frost have been good stewards of taxpayer dollars. He said Republicans would like to repeal zoning rules and cut funding to local nonprofits.

He told the students that if Frost loses, Republicans will make Buncombe County look “a lot more like Raleigh.”

In fact, the candidates were asked about a number of state and federal issues. The most contentious was abortion, and they expressed divergent views. Merrill said she supported new state abortion rules, which she characterized as “a raise in medical standards.” Frost characterized them as “horrible choices made by older white men telling women what to do with their bodies, and it’s absolutely wrong.”

In her appeal for support, Frost told the students, “I need your vote to make sure Buncombe stays blue. It’s vital.” She said the event was one of the highlights of the campaign.

Merrill acknowledged that the college crowd was likely “more liberal,” but said she was happy to have an opportunity to discuss her perspective. She urged them to “be independent thinkers” and not “be swayed by media or propaganda,” she said. “I love people regardless of their political views.”

Both candidates said they hope that the kind of confusion over ballots and polling sites that occurred on campus two years ago doesn’t happen again.

In addition to part of the Warren Wilson campus, District 2 encompasses Fairview, Black Mountain and Weaverville. Read more about the District 2 commissioner race here.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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26 thoughts on “Frost and Merrill debate voting rights at Warren Wilson College

    • bsummers

      By this logic, any woman who has a miscarriage should be prosecuted for negligent homicide.

      Think about it? We have, for decades, and we won’t let the American Taliban rule women’s bodies.

    • Dionysis

      Isn’t capital punishment murder? Isn’t war state-sanctioned criminality, mostly murder, bombing and arson? We don’t wring our hands over these murders, and so many more ways of killing our already born global populace. Many claim this ‘sanctity’ from religious pronouncements, unsupported in the Bible. It does not address abortion at all, much less condemn it. And keep in mind that abortifacients (abortion inducing) plants were in common use during the time of the New Testament. And in Exodus 21:22 there is no penalty other than a possible fine for killing a fetus in the womb, unless the woman was injured.

      Think about that.

  1. bsummers

    “I believe that, because of these laws, a transient student population, of motivated, partisan voters, was able to deceive poll workers about which dorm they supposedly lived in, in order to oppose my candidacy.”

    So she’s saying that WWC officials who verified every student address in notarized statements to the BOE are lying, perjuring, election-stealing criminals?

    Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, start your attorneys. This woman will stoop to any level to misrepresent this issue.

    Don’t forget, that whole thing happened because of a hamhanded attempt by Tim Moffitt and other GOPers to gerrymander WWC into the “liberal ghetto” with Asheville. They extended a prong miles out to the east to capture all those Democratic-registered voters, and only succeeded in cutting WWC in half, thereby outraging the student body & igniting the very controversy that led to Merrill losing the race.

    I attended the crucial BOE meeting where they fought over this, and spoke to a couple of folks who thought, like Merrill, that students shouldn’t be able to vote in local elections, and therefor all those disputed WWC votes shouldn’t count. I said, “So, you’re prepared to throw out all those Montreat College votes too? Montreat is a conservative christian school not 10 miles away from WWC in the very same district.”

    All I received were the blank stares of enraged hypocrites.

    • Big Al

      Montreat is NOT conservative. It is PCUSA, which is gay-friendly and touchy-feely on most social issues.

  2. Christy

    Frost & Newman showed their true colors & their desperation last night at the Warren Wilson candidate forum, double teaming Christina Merrill & literally BEGGING for votes…and it backfired. Many students approached Merrill after the forum & communicated their dismay about the way she had been treated by the two progressives & vowed to vote for her. Frost & Newman should be ashamed about their behavior…and Frost should be further ashamed about her continual lies. She has continued to claim throughout her campaign that her pay raise equaled $8 per week…and yet, last night, she claimed it was only $4 a week. She has also used her position as a commissioner to create email & whisper campaigns spreading false allegations about Merrill among county employees…if she can’t win by running an honest campaign that displays integrity, she just shouldn’t run…and she certainly shouldn’t win.

  3. Kris

    Please, Christy. True colors is the smear campaign that Merrill and her crew have been slinging for months now. True colors is Merrill putting a plywood size campaign sign up right across the street from Commissioner Frost’s home. TACKY. True colors is the desperation of your comment above. Are you really crying over $4? $4/wk and $8/paycheck? Do you have any idea the work, time and energy that goes into being a Commissioner? You do realize that their overall salary was cut by a large margin years ago and that they make less than the average worker in Buncombe County, right? $31,254 for vice-chair and $26,925 for remaining members to be exact. Not sure how that salary is hurting the residents of our county. With just about every endorsement you could possibly hope for during this election, I would say she is beyond well liked and respected. I hope to see her continuing the fantastic job she is doing next week when the votes are all counted.

    • Christy

      Smear campaign by Merrill?!? Please point out one thing that Merrill has stated that isn’t true….I can provide a list of Frost’s lies. And, as for the sign across from Ellen Frost’s property…Frost’s neighbor called the Republican Headquarters & REQUESTED that sign…it’s on his property & he has every right to have it there. And, who cares about $4 or $8 a week?!? The taxpayers who had their property taxes raised at the same time that Frost gave herself that raise…that’s who. Four commissioners chose to forego that raise…Frost didn’t care enough about taxpayers to do so. And, my point in even stating that in my comment is that she lied to the students at Warren Wilson last night, claiming that it was a $4/week raise when she has continued to claim that it was an $8/week raise throughout the remainder of her campaign…clearly Frost can’t keep her lies straight.

    • Christy

      …and, any candidate who has to run on endorsements (that, in the grand scheme of things, mean absolutely nothing) isn’t worthy of being elected….RECORDS mean something, and Frost’s is lousy…her record demonstrates greed, reckless spending/disrespect for taxpayers, & political pandering…nothing more, nothing less.

      • Dionysis

        “…any candidate who has to run on endorsements (that, in the grand scheme of things, mean absolutely nothing) isn’t worthy of being elected.”

        Just out of curiosity, is it likely you would make this comment if the endorsements shown in this edition of the MtnXpress were reversed,? Christine Merrill has five individual Republicans (no organizations) endorsing her (one a former somebody), whereas Frost has a significant number of high-profile individuals and many organizations. Somehow, it just seems logical that the downplaying of endorsements is tied to this fact. If endorsements are worthless, why did she bother to list any?

        One other noteworthy point. The view expressed in this: “When critics talk about suppressing minority votes, she added that as a woman of hispanic descent, “I’m one of the people they talk about when they talk about minorities…” is so ridiculous that it’s jaw-dropping. A large percentage of the U.S. population is decended from groups that at one time or another were ‘minorities in our history.

        • Christy

          I’ve not looked at the endorsements in this edition, so it’s safe to say that, yes, I’d feel the same way. I wholeheartedly believe that endorsements are bogus & any candidate who focuses on endorsements too much (as Frost has) has little else, if anything, to offer. And, as for Merrill’s heritage, she wasn’t speaking of her ancestors many generations ago, she was speaking of her grandmother. The arguments against voter ID laws are absolute nonsense…33 states already have them & one has to wonder about the motives behind anyone opposing integrity in our voting system.

          • Dionysis

            Endorsements are bogus? So not only those five people who supposedly have endorsed this obvious minority candidate (oh, the bigotry she must have had to endure), but all of the organizations and individuals who have supposedly endorsed Frost were made up? By the candidates? Or on their behalf, which they ‘approved’? It’s one thing to believe endorsements mean little to voters (you may well be correct), another altogetherr to claim they’re bogus. Happen to have any proof, or is it only your personal opinion?

            As for voter ID laws, they’re a solution in search of a problem, as most documented voter fraud in recent years have had little to do with ineligible people voting, but ballots being discarded or people being bullied at the polls (see article on races in New Mexico where voting officials have turned Native Americans away from the polls calling them “illiterate” for speaking their native language). In spite of this effort to disenfrancise voters, an analysis of early voting trends I read this morning indicates that in spite of having fewer early voting days, Democrats are moving ahead of Republicans in most races. Even the saturation campaign by the Koch Brothers front group, Americans for Prosperity (who have called me multiple times over the past few weeks) to interfere with local races doesn’t seem to be paying off that much.

          • Christy

            Belittling Merrill’s ethnicity…how very ” liberal” of you, Dionysis…it’s very telling that you presume to know what she has experienced throughout her life. I’m not going to continue arguing with you…I didn’t say endorsements were “made-up”…just bogus. It’s obvious that the same people/special interest groups endorsed all of the liberals. Again…records count far more than endorsements. And, we’ll have to agree to disagree on voter ID laws…I wholeheartedly support integrity in our voting system & offer no apologies for that.

          • Christy

            …and, Dionysus…nobodyknows who is leading at this point…I, personally, know that my moderate Democrat friends have voted Republican…and my guess is that many are. It’s silly to look at the # of Democrats voting & assume that equates to actual votes for Democrats…keep in mind that there are a great # of Democrats who don’t support liberal progressive policies.

        • Ryan

          “The Asheville Board of REALTORS is pleased to support the candidacy of Christina Merrill for Buncombe County Commissioner. The REALTORS generally do not endorse candidates but they do support candidates that understand the issues important to REALTORS. We are not about ideology or partisanship. We support candidates that understand the issues in the areas of regulations, ordinances that undermine the cost of increasing work force housing units, transfer taxes on real property and tax on services effecting the incomes of real estate brokers. We were very impressed with Christina’s answers to our concerns and are comfortable that Christina will look out for REALTORS and all the citizens of Buncombe County regardless of their affiliation..”

          Asheville Board of REALTORS

          • Dionysis

            According to Merrill supporter Christie, this is a bogus endorsement. All of them are. And even if it isn’t, it will have no influence in voter decisions.

          • nfb

            Asheville Board of REALTORS We are not about ideology or partisanship.

            LOL.

        • Christy Fryar

          Yes, ONE press release…meanwhile, Ellen Frost has touted her endorsements during every debate, all over her FB page, in every media outlet that she could manage to get them in b/c she has nothing else to tout…well, except a AAA bond rating that the county had BEFORE she became a commissioner. & also means almost nothing. Regardless, we’ll see on Tuesday if Frost’s endorsements are enough to carry her through…

  4. A miscarriage is a natural event, not an abortion. And it is not just a women’s body we are talking about but also, the body of the unborn. Why is it the pro-death group will not take responsibility for their actions?

    • Dionysis

      Mr. Brown,

      To try and vilify those who support a woman’s right to choose as “pro-death” is pretty low. How many times have you personally offered to adopt to avoid a woman having an abortion? If you have, you deserve respect. If you have not, then one must ask: why don’t you just live your life that way you think you should and quit trying to impose your will on others and reduce their personal freedoms? You certainly will never find yourself in a position of becoming pregnant. Funny how those most vocally opposing this legal right are aging white males that will never have to make a tough decision.

  5. Dionysis

    “Belittling Merrill’s ethnicity…how very ” liberal” of you, Dionysis”

    I don’t know if you have a reading comprehension problem or an honesty problem, but there was no “belittling” of anyone’s ethnicity. What is a joke, however, and what my comments reflected was her effort to paint herself as one of the minorities whose voting rights are under seige by the GOP throughout the country. When people do think of minorities, the notion that she comes to mind is nonsense.

    And I am not a Democrat but am unaffiliated. Lastly, there was no claim or prediction which side would prevail, only that initial analysis I read indicated that Democratic candidates were showing much stronger than predicted, largely pushed by women voters. You can easily find this information yourself if you care to do a search.

    • Christy

      “Oh, the bigotry she must have had to endure”…seems a lot like belittling to me. How would YOU know what she or her family has had to endure?!? And, I’ve done plenty of research…including WORKING the early voting polls every day & hearing the feedback from voters. I also read the article & watched the video of Democrat poll workers telling an admitted illegal to vote. Yeah, it’s a real shocker that liberals are so up-in-arms about voter ID laws…I wonder why?!? lol.

      http://civitasreview.com/elections-campaigns/liberal-left-reacts-voter-fraud-nc/

  6. Dionysis

    Final comment before I do something more productive, like watch paint dry.

    “I didn’t say endorsements were “made-up”…just bogus.” The dictionary definition of ‘bogus is “not genuine, counterfit…sham…false, made to look real.” How is this different than “made up”? Given this definition from several dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, Oxford, etc.), it seems that you are actually claiming that endorsements were cooked up by the endorsees, meaning they are all a pack of lies (or made up). If this is true, then all of the local organizations and local leaders who allow their names to go out as endorsements are to be ignored, regardless of which side they ‘endorse’.

    • Christy

      I just love how liberals whine & complain about special interests, but are SO happy to tout their endorsements by special interest groups/people…yep, BOGUS. Lies & endorsements seem to be the only things liberal candidates have going for them in this election, though…

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