More than two months after Election Day, Ellen Frost was sworn in Jan. 15 as the seventh Buncombe County commissioner, giving Democrats a 4-3 majority on the board.
"It's been a long time since the election. It feels great, and I'm ready to get to work," said Frost, soon after being sworn in by N.C. District Judge Calvin Hill. Her granddaughter, Lexi Allen, held the Bible under Frost’s hand, and daughter Liz Allen stood beside her.
The move came mere hours after Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway denied Republican candidate Christina Kelley G. Merrill's request to prevent a certificate of election being issued in the race. A Dec. 7 hand re-count of all District 2 ballots showed Frost 18 votes ahead, winning her a two-year term as the second commissioner representing the district. (Republican Mike Fryar collected the most votes, giving him a four-year term.) But a series of appeals by Merrill, who charged that many ballots from Warren Wilson College residents were illegally included, stalled certification of the results of both District 2 races. Fryar was finally sworn in Jan. 9.
An unofficial tally on election night had shown Merrill with a slim lead, but it was erased when provisional ballots cast by campus residents were counted.
Both the Buncombe County Board of Elections and the State Board of Elections denied Merrill’s charges of misconduct and her request for an evidentiary hearing. In his Jan. 15 ruling, Ridgeway declined to further delay certifying the election results, finding that any additional appeals by Merrill were unlikely to prevail.
Merrill and her legal team made their case to the judge Jan. 11 in Wake County. Frost’s attorney, Bob Deutsch, has said that once his client was sworn in, any further legal action by Merrill would likely be moot.
Nonetheless, Merrill plans to continue her push for an evidentiary hearing. "Nothing's changed in terms of what we're seeking," she reports, adding that the point of asking the judge to maintain a stay on the election results "was to avoid complicating the situation more by swearing someone in before we had a hearing.
"It's still highly irregular that nearly 200 [Warren Wilson] voters were moved from District 1 to District 2 just days before the election," Merrill asserts. "I'm going to fight for what's right, and the voters of this county can count on that. Whether we win or lose, integrity is important."
After Ridgeway's decision, Jones Byrd, the chair of the Buncombe County Board of Elections, quickly signed a certificate of election.
Frost was sworn in during a recess at the end of the commissioners’ Jan. 15 meeting. She then joined her new colleagues in a brief closed session to discuss an undisclosed economic-development matter.