Sylva election results up in the air
The General Election has been over for a week, but in Sylva the results won’t be certain until provisional ballots are counted on Friday, Nov. 15.
Three seats on the Sylva Board of Commissioners were up for election this year, and while incumbent David Nestler was far-and-away the top vote-getter with 155 votes, any of three candidates could end up occupying the two other seats.
“I was surprised. I thought all the candidates were really good choices,” Nestler said of the results. “I think what weighed heaviest was the (N.C. 107) road project obviously, and I think I gave people confidence that the town was willing to work with our business owners and DOT on the compromise. I had already worked with some businesses on 107 to solve some issues, so I think that helped a lot. Overall, there were a lot of good choices on there. I had trouble deciding who to vote for.”
According to unofficial totals, incumbent Greg McPherson came in second place with 110 votes, and challengers Carrie McBane and Ben Guiney tied for third with 106 votes. But with nine provisional ballots in play, those rankings are far from solid.
“I had a great time doing it and felt really good about the votes I got,” said Guiney. “I felt like they were all from me talking to people or putting up signs.”
McBane said she was pleasantly surprised by her high rank in the election results.
“I really did my best to connect with the community, so even though I was kind of surprised that I tied, I felt like that’s kind of the place that I should have ended up in,” she said.
Provisional ballots are offered to voters when there is a question about the voter’s eligibility to vote. In these cases, citizens are allowed to cast a ballot that is held aside until research can be conducted to resolve the issue. Findings are presented to members of the county’s board of elections. The Jackson County Board of Elections will meet at 11 a.m. Nov. 15 to vote on provisional ballots and certify election results.
If there is still a tie after provisional ballots are accounted for, the winner will be decided with a coin toss. McBane said she takes issue with that approach.
“Because 107 is the biggest divisive issue so far among Sylva, I think that’s a very unfair way to possibly decide people’s livelihoods,” she said. “To me, it’s just not a respectful way to view that, and no matter what happens people will be impacted by the decision that we make. To me what’s appropriate is a runoff.”
State election law directs boards of elections to decide tied votes by lot — meaning, by some random method such as a coin toss or drawing straws. Some municipalities do use runoffs as part of their typical election method, but that is not how Sylva is set up. And even for cities using the election and runoff election method, second runoffs are not allowed — in the event of a tie in the runoff election, winners are to be decided by lot.
Deciding an election with a coin toss is not unheard of in Sylva. In 2015, McPherson earned his seat after winning a coin toss against candidate Charlie Schmidt, with whom he’d tied for third with 112 votes. Eight provisional ballots were cast in that election, with four approved as part of the final vote count.
This year’s ballot featured a similar number of candidates to 2015 — six candidates this year as opposed to five candidates then — but a pair of last-minute write-in campaigns impacted the vote totals as well. Natalie Newman registered as a write-in candidate on Oct. 16, and Charlie Beam did the same on Oct. 18. Both hinged their decision to enter the race on opposition to the N.C. 107 project.
Of the six candidates who registered during the filing period, McBane was the only one to express blanket opposition to the plan as proposed. Neither Newman nor Beam drew enough votes to rank high in the totals — 40 people voted for Newman and 35 for Beam — but their entrance in the race may have siphoned votes that would have otherwise gone to different candidates.
The N.C. 107 project was a pivotal issue for many voters, but the high attendance to town and community meetings the project has spurred over the past year did not translate to the polls. Only 257 of Sylva’s 1,521 registered voters cast ballots this year — a turnout rate of 16.8 percent — compared to 283 ballots cast in the 2015 town election. Sylva-specific turnout numbers are not available for 2015, but countywide turnout that year was 16.57 percent.
Write-ins decide Forest Hills election
Write-in candidates overwhelmed the ballot in the Village of Forest Hills, receiving 72.38 percent of votes cast.
Two council seats were up for election this year, and the only people to file were incumbent Jonathan Brooks and political newcomer Timothy Eckard. However, Eckard drew only 26 votes in the General Election, with Brooks earning 24. Meanwhile, write-in candidates Nilofer Couture and Marcia Almond received 61 votes and 56 votes, respectively, making them the top vote-getters.
In the mayor’s race, James Wallace, the sole candidate on the ballot, received 83.16 percent of the vote, with the 13 write-in votes cast in that race comprising the remaining 16.84 percent.
The results represent a significant uptick in participation from the 2015 election, when only 26 people voted. This year, that number nearly quadrupled to 96.