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Oriental Town Board's Fifth Seat Decided
Tie Broken by Pulling Name From A Flowerpot
November 13, 2007

It came down to a plastic flower pot.

Just before noon on Tuesday, Pamlico County’s Board of Elections drew a name from a pink flower pot to determine who would take the 5th seat on the Oriental Town Board. By the luck of the draw, Candy Bohmert returns to the Town Board.

She and Barbara Venturi had been tied at 245 votes each since last week’s election.

That deadlock lent more drama and attention to the Board of Elections canvass. Typically, the canvasses are much drier affairs at which the results of the previous week’s election are made official without much fuss.

This one drew more of an audience than usual. In addition to the candidates, about a dozen people— including mayor-elect Bill Sage of Oriental and John Forster of Minnesott Beach and several media — were on hand to watch the proceedings in the kitchen at the county courthouse. That’s where the three member Board of Elections got to work — between a refrigerator and a Pepsi machine — to determine the final seat in Oriental’s commissioners race.

The first attempt to break the tie Tuesday came with the Elections Board counting the votes on one provisional ballot. (Two provisional ballots had been cast in Oriental’s election; Elections Supervisor Lisa Bennett rejected one after determining the voter did not live within Oriental’s town limits.) The ballot that the Elections Board did read revealed that the provisional voter cast votes for commissioner candidates Dave Cox, Nancy Inger, Sherrill Styron, Candy Bohmert, … and Barbara Venturi. Both of the tied candidates gained a vote. The count was now 246-246.

Next came a ‘discretionary recount’. While the dozen or so people in the room waited, and media conducted interviews, Lisa Bennett went off to her office and tabulated —- once again — the sums from the voting on November 6, the absentee/one-stop votes and the provisional vote. And once again, the tie remained.

That left it to the Elections Board to decide. Board chair Marty Feinberg noted that some had suggested the candidates mud wrestle for the seat. He was more partial he said to drawing a name from a hat.

First though, he gave both the candidates the opportunity to call for a hand recount of the 400-plus ballots. Neither Venturi nor Bohmert, who struck a collegial note throughout the canvass, indicated an interest in lengthening the process. At this point, it appeared the candidates were ready for the race to be settled. (Candy noted too that she had a doctor’s appointment in New Bern within the hour.) Feinberg said that a name would be drawn from a hat.

Not literally though.

There was in fact a hat in the room, but it was on the head of one of the two candidates. Elections Supervisor Bennett emerged from her office with what would pass for an alternative: a pink flower pot. It elicited some smiles in the room. It was small — less than 5 inches wide — and until a few moments earlier, it held an African violet on a desk in Bennett’s office. A thin film of dirt could be seen inside. The inside also held two slips of bright yellow paper.

Marty Feinberg held the pot while Elections Board member Edward Credle, Jr squeezed three fingers in to it to retrieve one of the papers.

“Candy Bohmert,” Feinberg read.

And with that, Oriental’s 2007 extended election and its musical chairs aspect — six candidates vying for five seats — was over.

Bohmert, who returns for a 3rd term on the Town Board, said that she would have preferred it if the that the race have been decided “either way” by the provisional ballot. That way, Bohmert says, it would have been a voter who decided, rather than it coming down to the chance.

This marked the second time in two years that the Pamlico Board of Elections has had to break a tie. They pulled a name from a hat in a Mesic race two years ago. Board member Edward Credle says tie votes are a relatively new phenomenon and during a break in the action Tuesday he ventured a guess that it comes from having contested elections; it used to be he said, that small towns had a hard time finding people to run for office. That’s changed, he says, because of the growth in the area.

The African violet sits on the desk in Lisa Bennett’s office, awaiting the return of its pink flowerpot.

Posted Tuesday November 13, 2007 by Melinda Penkava

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