The release of official election results following a Nov. 14 canvass of all 66,939 votes cast in New Hanover County opened the door for two local candidates to request recounts.
Election Day results remained unofficial until the New Hanover County Board of Elections revisited absentee ballots and provisional ballots, most commonly cast by unregistered voters or voters who showed up at the wrong precinct. The board approved 131 of 534 provisional ballots.
Democrat Rob Zapple maintained an edge over Republican Dr. Derrick Hickey in the contest for two seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners after all provisional and absentee ballots were counted, although his 204-vote advantage on election night was narrowed by 18 votes. Because the margin between Zapple and Hickey is less than 1 percent, state law allows Hickey to request a recount of all votes, which he did Nov. 17.
Hickey did not respond to requests for comment.
Zapple recognized Hickey’s legal right to request a recount, but said the process is thorough and he is confident in the final results after attending a Nov. 13 meeting of the board to count and verify absentee and provisional ballots.
“He is the captain of his own ship,” Zapple said. “But I feel very solid about the election results, and I think the voters have spoken.”
Zapple, who stopped by the canvass with fellow commissioner-elect Skip Watkins after a meeting with county staff, added he is already embracing his duties as county commissioner.
“It’s full-steam ahead. We’re going to get the county back to work,” Zapple said.
When the Election Day polls closed, Zapple held a lead among early voters against Watkins, Hickey and fellow Democrat Pat Spear. But as results from New Hanover County’s 43 precincts trickled in, Watkins secured the top spot while Hickey and Zapple remained neck-and-neck until the last precinct reported around midnight, pushing Zapple ahead by 204 votes.
Canvass results from New Hanover and Pender counties reversed Election Day results in the 5th judicial district race for longtime District Judge Rebecca Blackmore’s seat. Kent Harrell emerged from election night with a small lead over Lindsey McKee Luther, but after provisional and absentee ballots were tallied, Luther pulled ahead by 13 votes.
Multicounty races, like the race between Harrell and Luther, remain unofficial until the state canvass Nov. 25, but Harrell requested a recount the day canvass results were announced. He declined to comment on his decision.
Luther, on the other hand, said she is waiting for the recount process to run its course, but added she is excited about the outcome announced after the local canvass.
A third statewide contest will be recounted during the Nov. 20 countywide canvass to determine if challenger Mike Robinson will unseat North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Cheri Beasley.
Elections board chairman John Ferrante said he was confident in the final results approved by the board during the canvass, although he said he respects the legal right of any qualifying candidate to request a recount.
“We certified the results today, so that signifies that we’re confident,” Ferrante said following the canvass.
During the canvass, elections director Marvin McFadyen confirmed county staff is prepared to immediately handle a recount request — a process that would require the county to rent two machines to revisit every ballot cast, carrying a price tag of $8,000 or $9,000.
Democratic candidate for New Hanover County Board of Education Emma Saunders trailed Republican incumbents Don Hayes and Ed Higgins by less than 1 percent, qualifying her to request a recount against fourth-highest vote earner Higgins, but she did not submit a request for a recount.
The recount will begin at 10 a.m. Nov. 20.
Fourteen recounts were requested statewide, the N.C. State Board of Elections stated.