Wood wins blind draw, but protest could still change race

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Tobaccoville Village Council candidate Lori Shore-Smith (left) watches as Forsyth elections worker Jacob Wright calls out votes during a recount. (Meghann Evans/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Steve Wood won a blind draw Friday for a nonpartisan seat on the Tobaccoville Village Council, but the office isn’t his yet.

The election results are not yet certified because the Forsyth County Board of Elections agreed to hold a hearing on complaints lodged by incumbent Lori Shore-Smith.

If the board members agree with her argument – that an approved provisional vote in favor of Wood was cast by someone who does not live in Tobaccoville – the outcome of the race will be changed and Shore-Smith will win.

The board’s decision to hold a hearing was the last item in a meeting almost solely devoted to the recount, which Shore-Smith had called for earlier this week after learning that the provisional ballot had tied the race.

The vote total after the recount differed from the earlier total, but it was still a tie. Wayne Leslie Dodson won a seat with 192 votes, but Shore-Smith and Wood ended up tying for the second available seat with 188 votes instead of the previously counted 187.

Elections staffers picked someone not involved in the race – county security guard Abigail Doughty – to draw a name out of Wood’s hat.

“Who’s Mr. Wood?” Doughty asked after Coffman read the name.

Undervote inquiry

The recount was not without problems. Board members called for a second recount of one precinct to ensure the vote was correct after Forsyth County Republican Party Chairman Scott Cumbie inquired about undervote tallies.

Undervotes are noted when voters pick no candidates or select only one candidate when they could pick two.

The tallies between two elections workers did not add up in that second recount, so workers had to count the ballots again.

“I’m satisfied they went the extra mile,” Cumbie said. “They did what was required.”

Coffman said he thought the recount went well. He said there is always room for human error in a manual recount.

The change in totals may have been the result of a selection that was circled or filled in lightly, which would not be detected by a voting machine.

Coffman told those present for the recount that a tie was not unusual. There were eight ties across the state this election. In a race where less than 5,000 votes are cast, ties are resolved by “game of chance” methods, including a blind draw.

“Which shows, once again, that every vote counts,” board Chairman Ken Raymond said.

Despite the undervote questions and the blind draw result, Shore-Smith still said she felt comfortable with Friday’s recount.

“I am disappointed that the circumstances surrounding this recount resulted in a blind draw,” she said in a prepared statement. “However, I respect that these are the regulations set forth and I thank the residents of the Village of Tobaccoville for these past four years that I have been able to serve.”

“I wish Mr. Wood and the Village of Tobaccoville all the best,” Shore-Smith said.

Wood did not want to comment on the blind draw result since it has not yet been certified.

“I want to thank the board for their diligent and good work,” he said. “I think it’s critical that all valid votes be counted in any election.”

Protest hearing

Shore-Smith’s protest will be heard on at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Forsyth County Government Center. This is a quasi-judicial function of the board, so subpoenas can be issued and testimony will be given under oath.

Board Secretary Stuart Russell suggested proceeding with a hearing because Shore-Smith filed the protest in a timely manner and because her claim, if true, would change the race result.

“That does not mean we are saying it is true at this point,” Russell stressed.

Coffman said the burden of proof will be on Shore-Smith, who must show that the voter who cast the provisional ballot was not eligible to vote in Tobaccoville.

By Meghann Evans/Winston-Salem Journal