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Count on recount in E. City mayor?s race

By LAUREN KING , The Virginian-Pilot    November 11, 2005

ELIZABETH CITY ? The Rev. Charles L. Foster remained the unofficial winner of the run off for mayor with 17 more votes than Councilman Bill Lehmann, who has already requested a recount and plans to file at least one protest.

 On Election Day , Foster led the race to replace retiring Mayor John H. Bell Jr. by 14 votes. The slim lead meant the race was too close to call and the outcome would depend on provisional ballots, which were counted Thursday.

Provisional ballots are cast by voters whose names don?t appear on the rolls. Provisional voters have to be researched to determine if they were eligible to vote.

Of the 14 provisional ballots cast, 11 were deemed valid, said Michele E. Aydlett, chairwoman of the Pasquotank County Board of Elections. 
Four went to Lehmann, and seven went to Foster.

Foster?s 17-vote victory over Lehmann should be certified Tuesday. But Lehmann has requested a recount because the margin is less than 1 percent.

The recount is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday .

?I don?t think it will be any different in a recount,? Foster said.

He said he wants to focus on moving forward and thanked those who voted for him and welcomed those who did not.

?I reach out to those who didn?t vote for me ? to work with me and make Elizabeth City an all-American city,? Foster said.

He also said he doesn?t believe there is cause for a protest over the election results.

But Lehmann said he is already preparing to file a protest based on complaints he received from supporters who reported problems using the machines and the number of blank ballots cast during the election.

Typically, there are several ?under votes,? or ballots cast in which the voter did not choose a candidate or opt to write in someone. Those figures are frequently overlooked because some people may be interested in voting only in one race. For instance, the voter may cast a ballot for mayor but not a city council seat.

But there was only one race in Elizabeth City this week, and 42 blank ballots were cast ? 24 during early One-Stop (No Excuse) voting and 18 during Tuesday?s election.

Lehmann said he received complaints from supporters who said they had to try several times to his name on the touch screen, but the box for a write-in candidate was highlighted instead. In those cases, he said, the voters were successful in voting for him, but he was concerned because if they were having trouble, additional problems might not have been reported.

His protest will focus on the number of blank ballots cast being enough to make a difference in the election results and a record of problems with the machines.

Linda Page, B oard of E lections director, said that on Election Day, the machines at one of the precincts were changed out to remedy reported problems. But she said most of the complaints focused on inconvenience, rather than the inability to vote for a specific candidate.

Under votes also were scattered among all of the precincts and on different days, Page said, so it?s not clear whether it was a problem with the machines or human error ? a voter casting a ballot before properly indicating a candidate.

Holly Koerber, a Lehmann campaign coordinator, said a second protest also could be filed next week. She wouldn?t elaborate on the details because campaign volunteers are still investigating the issue, but she said she believes there will be strong evidence to support it.

Lehmann said at least one voter told a campaign volunteer that when she had trouble voting for Lehmann, she decided to submit his name as a write-in candidate instead. But none of the recorded write-in votes included Lehmann?s name.

Lehmann said he has yet to decide if he will file a second protest based on that claim.

Formal protests about the vote counts or result tabulation are due before the county Board of Election?s canvass meeting, scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday .

Protests concerning an irregularity other than vote counting or result tabulation must be filed no later than 6 p.m. on the second day after the county board has completed its canvass, according to state law.

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