Local News

Judge: Special Election In Carteret County Ruled Illegal

Posted December 17, 2004

— A special election to decide the disputed race for agriculture commissioner was declared illegal Friday by a judge who ordered state officials to find another way to account for votes lost in Carteret County during the general election.

The State Board of Elections had planned the special election for Jan. 11 in Carteret, where 4,438 early ballots were lost due to a faulty computer. People whose ballots were lost were to be eligible to vote, along with anyone from the county who did not vote in the general election.

Candidates for agriculture commissioner and superintendent of public instruction had challenged the election as unconstitutional.

Britt Cobb, the Democratic agriculture commissioner, asked the court to block the revote, saying it violates state election laws. Cobb favored a new statewide election.

Cobb trails Republican Steve Troxler by 2,287 votes out of about 3 million cast, which means the lost Carteret votes could swing the election.

Troxler's appeal said only the people whose ballots were lost on Nov. 2 should get to vote again.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Henry Hight agreed, writing in his ruling that the Jan. 11 plan "is arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law and affected by error of law."

Cobb's filing cited seven legal defects in the special election ordered by the state board.

The vote would violate the mandatory, minimum 75-day break for voters between elections, eliminate the one-stop voting period and prohibit absentee voting, including military personnel overseas, Cobb argued.

Lawyers for the state argued that the state board had already rejected a new statewide election and limited revote in Carteret.

It was not clear Friday evening when the elections board would address Hight's ruling.

"As I've said all along, there is only one commonsense solution here, and it's to let just those 4,438 people whose votes were lost vote again and be done with this once and for all, as the people of our state want and deserve," Troxler said in a statement.

He called Cobb's request for a new statewide election -- which officials have estimated would cost $3.5 million -- "simply wrong," and noted that the governor and members of the Council of State are to be inaugurated Jan. 15.

Cobb issued a statement Friday saying he was grateful the court agreed with his "efforts to make sure every eligible voter can vote in the new election."

"We look forward to the State Board of Elections' new order and to a vigorous election campaign on the issues: creating jobs, protecting consumers and providing experienced leadership for our states largest industry," he said.

In the same ruling, Hight also rejected an appeal by Bill Fletcher, the Republican candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, who wanted the court to block certification of the Nov. 2 results in his race and add the race to the ballot in the Carteret County special election.

Fletcher, who lost to Democrat June Atkinson by 8,535 votes, contends thousands of voters unlawfully cast provisional ballots outside their home precincts on Election Day.

The elections board has certified Atkinson's victory in the race.

Fletcher said Friday that he anticipated the ruling.

"We plan to appeal to the (state) Supreme Court," he said.

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