The District 2 race will determine which party has a majority on the expanded seven-member Board of Commissioners.
The state board made the decision after a Dec. 3, partial "hand-to-eye" recount: In a random sampling of two precincts in the district, Republican Christina Kelley G. Merrill gained four votes on Democrat Ellen Frost. The discrepancy was enough that the board determined, through extrapolation, that the election outcome could potentially be reversed if all the ballots were recounted in the same manner.
A previous machine recount extended Frost's edge in to second place over Merrill from 13 to 17 votes. The slight change was due to errors in how the machines read the ballots, election officials explained.
Republican Mike Fryar has been in first place according to all the vote tallies so far, and Democratic incumbent Carol Peterson has been in fourth. But only 123 votes separate all the candidates, according to the figures from the machine recount. Under the new county rules, the top two vote-getters in each district win seats on the board.
The complete hand recount of the approximately 48,000 ballots will begin Dec. 6. The process is likely to take at least two days, according to Buncombe County Election Services Director Trena Parker. Local Election Service Department officials will count the ballots under the supervision of the Board of Elections. If any questions emerge over the intent of voters while counting the ballots, the three- member board will inspect them individually.
Meanwhile, the State Board confirmed that they'll consider Merrill's protest of dozens of ballots cast by Warren Wilson College residents on Dec. 13. On Nov. 28, the Buncombe County Board of Elections voted 2-1 to deny a similar request by Merrill to remove dozens of their ballots from the results due to questions over the process used to determine which district the college residents live in. Newsweek recently ranked Warren Wilson the most liberal college in the country, and it's likely that throwing out those ballots would help Merrill make up her razor-thin deficit.
The State Board of Elections is appointed by the governor and currently consists of three Democrats and two Republicans.