Disputed resultsNorth Carolina allows losers to request a recount in statewide races where the difference between the winning and losing candidate is less than 0.5% of the votes cast in that race. In 2004, this was the case in two statewide races ñ for the Superintendent of Education and the Commissioner of Agriculture ñ and recounts were also pursued for a number of local positions. After the recount in the race for Superintendent of Education, Democrat June Atkinson leads Republican Bill Fletcher by less than 9,000 votes. In the race for Commissioner of Agriculture, Republican Steve Troxler leads Democratic incumbent Britt Cobb by less than 3,000 votes.
Elections this close highlight the importance of making every vote count equally, and expose the ways in which ambiguous election legislation can be twisted to partisan advantage. Fletcher, along with two local candidates from Mecklenburg and Guilford Counties, went to court in an attempt to get the provisional ballots of those voting outside their precincts discounted from the vote totals. Approximately 10,000 ballots are estimated to fall into this category. Fletcher argued that out-of-precinct ballots should be counted for president, and discarded for all other races. Although Fletcher lost his case initially, he has continued with his appeal. If found in his favor, the case could call into question the legality of some 1 million early votes cast out of precinct.
The small margin between the two candidates for Commissioner for Agriculture raises a different set of problems because of the more than 4000 votes lost in Carteret County. The difference between the two candidates vote totals was smaller than the number of votes lost, meaning that the result can not be given definitively. The North Carolina State Board of Elections has the legal power to call a second election, and was consequently under pressure to take some action. However, controversy arose over who exactly should be allowed to participate in the revote. To open it merely to those whose votes were lost would probably mean that the turnout was too small to change the outcome of the race, and thus unfair to the Democratic candidate. A statewide revote would be more equitable, but would cost taxpayers between $3 and $3.5 million.
The State Board of Election's initial decision to open the revote to those who cast the lost votes, and registered voters in Carteret County who didn't vote on November 2, was a compromise position which did not end the controversy. The Chair of the State Board of Elections voted against the decision, claiming that it was illegal under state law. Both Troxler and Cobb also later challenged the Board's ruling in court, Troxler asking them to restrict the electorate, and Cobb asking them to expand it to a statewide level. Wake Superior Court eventually found in Cobb's favor, and in a new vote the State Board of Election decided on three-to-two split to hold a statewide election. The decision was challenged by Troxler, and also drew criticism throughout the state from those who objected to the expense. It too was rejected in its turn by the court, and a satisfactory solution has yet to be found. A combination of incompetent election management and unclear law has left North Carolina in a position with no satisfactory solution. Whatever the eventual outcome of the race, it is clear that North Carolina's people deserve better.