If a tie, Columbus third council seat to be determined by lot

Published 11:28 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017

COLUMBUS – With three provisional ballots still out and the race between Columbus council candidates Mark Phillips and Brent Jackson being a three-vote difference, the race could end up being a tie.


If that’s the case, which won’t be determined until next week, the race will be determined by lot, or a method such as a coin toss, drawing straws or a name out of a hat, according to state statute.

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In Columbus, council candidate Robert Williamson was the high vote getter with 105 votes, Richard Hall won a seat with 97 votes and the third seat is currently up in the air. Phillips received 79 votes and Jackson received 76 votes, following the count of early votes and Election Day votes.


Polk County Board of Elections Director Cliff Marr said there are three provisional votes remaining, which could change the outcome of that third council seat.


Council candidates Ernie Kan and Marshall “Buddy” Watkins lost the bid with 49 and 24 votes respectively.


State statute 163-292, titled, “Determination of election results in cities using the plurality method,” says in the event two or more candidates receive the same number of votes, the board of elections will determine the winner by lot.


The method of lot is described as an object used in deciding a matter by chance, a number of these being placed in a container and then drawn or cast out at random one by one, according to dictionary.com.


The statute regarding deciding a tie by lot is only applicable for non-partisan elections, such as municipal elections. Partisan elections, such as county commissioners or state offices, would be determined in the event of a tie by a run-off election.


The statute regarding non-partisan elections specifically states that when more than one person is seeking election to a single office, the candidate who receives the highest number of votes shall be declared elected.


When more persons are seeking election to two or more offices (constituting a group), states the statute, than there are offices to be filled, those candidates receiving the highest number of votes, equal in number to the number of offices to be filled, shall be declared elected.


“If two or more candidates receiving the highest number of votes each receive the same number of votes, the board of elections shall determine the winner by lot,” states N.C. Statute 163-292.


Marr said in the latest instance he knew of with a tie, they drew a name out of a hat. Another method could be a coin toss. Phillips and Jackson, if the race ends in a tie, would agree which method of lot to use.


A provisional vote is a vote that there was a problem that would prevent a person from voting, such as the board of elections not showing that person as registered to vote or not being in the city limits, which would prevent them from voting.


Marr said those voters vote on a provisional ballot to allow the board of elections time to do research to determine whether those votes are valid.


In total, Columbus had three provisional votes, Saluda had four provisional votes and Tryon had two provisional votes, according to the board of elections.


“The Columbus ones are obviously going to be a bid deal,” Marr said.


Marr said the three voters believed they were in city limits, but the county’s records did not show that their address was in city limits. The three votes in Columbus are all from the same address. Marr said on Wednesday that he has confirmed with the Town of Columbus that the address is in city limits. The board of elections will have to vote on whether or not to verify the votes after being presented with evidence.


Columbus voters could vote for up to three candidates to fill three open council seats, so if Jackson received three votes and Phillips received none of the provisional votes, there would be a tie.


Marr said if all three are for Jackson and none for Phillips, the board of elections would do a recount and if there is a tie, the board will get the candidates together, agree on a method to break the tie and break the tie by lot.


The original date to count provisional votes was at 10 a.m. next Friday, Nov. 17 prior to the official canvassing of votes, but Marr said because of the unique Columbus situation, the board is trying to count provisionals either Monday or Tuesday of next week.


“We need at least a day or two to research and make sure we have evidence to present to the board,” said Marr. “We’ll try to resolve it as quickly as we can.”