by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
Hundreds of Warren Wilson ballots cast in this year’s election were illegally counted, and should thus be discounted, alleged Republican Christina Merrill, who lost her bid for Buncombe County commissioner in District 2 by a mere 18 votes.
Merrill filed an official protest with the Board of Elections in order to see that several Warren Wilson ballots were not counted, on the basis that many voters were given the incorrect ballot styles during early voting.
Due to recent redistricting, Warren Wilson campus is now in two districts. District 1 includes the part of campus that is south of Warren Wilson Road, and District 2 includes campus north of Warren Wilson Road. The Board of Elections realized about a week after early voting began in October that they had to give Warren Wilson students two different ballot styles, depending on where they lived on campus.
“Some voters failed, after repeated opportunity, to provide their residential address as was their obligation,” reads Merrill’s election protest document. “The Board [of Elections] erred in failing to ascertain the correct address and in counting ballots of voters which are not lawfully registered.”
However, after realizing their error, the Board of Elections contacted Warren Wilson so that they were given an accurate list of who lived where on campus.
“The Board of Elections is totally our ally,” said Dean of Service Cathy Kramer. “They counted our votes, they wanted to count our votes, we wanted them to count our votes.”
In a preliminary hearing held Nov. 28, Merrill’s protest was denied in a 2-1 decision by the Buncombe County Board of Elections. No laws were violated, according to the Board, and Merrill’s charges did not warrant further investigation.
However, after the hearing, Merrill told the Mountain Xpress that she will appeal and file a protest with the state court.
“I don’t feel that there was a resolution here tonight,” Merrill told the Mountain Xpress after the 2-1 decision was made. “There’s still a lot of questions… Voters of our county need to know that every vote is counted properly.”
Merrill, perhaps, is especially bitter toward Warren Wilson ballots because unofficial results on election day showed Merrill ahead of Democrat Ellen Frost by 87 votes. However, these results did not take into account the hundreds of absentee and provisional ballots, many of which were cast by Warren Wilson students. These votes would be counted in the canvassing period, which began Nov. 16. At 2 a.m. the next morning, it was announced that Frost was ahead of Merrill by a little over a dozen votes according to certified election results. Merrill soon after called for a recount, which still showed her behind Frost with a small handful of votes.
Frost’s victory effectively retracted the Republican majority in the new board of commissioners, as four of the seven seats are now held by Democrats.
“Students swung this election,” said Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County’s Register of Deeds. “We now have a new commissioner after these provisional ballots were counted.”
The end results were probably not what was expected by the Republican-dominated NC General Assembly, who spent the summer in Raleigh manipulating maps to ensure as many Republican victories as possible throughout the state.
“Overwhelmingly, the General Assembly [of North Carolina] is Republican,” Reisinger said. “They won state-wide races solely because of redistricting.”
The state board will consider Merrill’s protest of Warren Wilson ballots on Dec. 13. The winners for District 2 will not be certified until after this hearing. If the Warren Wilson ballots are thrown out, it is likely that Frost may lose her slim advantage and Merrill may take her place. However, we must wait until the state board’s decision.
“We plan to stay with this until the end,” said Kramer.