In North Carolina, a single vote can turn an election.
A study from nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group Democracy North Carolina shows that just a handful of votes – or in some cases, a single vote – can determine who wins or loses, especially in odd-year municipal elections.
Democracy North Carolina has been one of the most active groups in lawsuits and other actions opposing voter ID and other Republican-led election changes, and it also addresses issues of money in politics. It sometimes partners with the North Carolina NAACP.
Democracy North Carolina analyzed November 2015 elections in the state and determined that the mayor or a town council member in 69 cities won their election by five or fewer votes.
And in 31 municipalities across North Carolina, one vote determined who won or lost an election.
“I was surprised to see how many places had very close contests,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina. “Of course, many of these are small towns, but the elections involve mayors and even several ties settled by a coin toss or another method that follows state law.”
One candidate in Sparta in western North Carolina called heads in a tied-vote election for town council – and lost.
Coin tosses also broke ties for council seats in Sylva, West Jefferson, Clarkton and Godwin, while drawing the winner’s name from a box decided a council seat in Dover, according to the study.
In Garland, the tied candidates put colored pens in a box, and the elections board chair picked the winner – a purple pen.
The mayors of Spruce Pine, St. Pauls and Biscoe all won their seats by one vote. Mayors in nine other towns won by five or fewer votes: Angier, Atkinson, Cooleemee, Mooresboro, Newton Grove, Roxobel, Sylva, St. Paul and Teachey.
Other cities with races settled by 5 or fewer votes in 2015 include Bladenboro, Bryson City, Chadbourn, Creedmoor, Lumberton, Marshville, Nashville, Oriental, Plymouth, Ramseur, Wallace and Whiteville.
“Local elections are where citizens can have the most impact and, vice versa, who they choose has a big impact on their lives,” said Sunny Frothingham, senior researcher at Democracy North Carolina. “The winners oversee the police, decide funding for vital services, shape neighborhood development, set tax rates, and more.
“These local officials may win by a narrow margin, but history shows they may eventually become a state legislator or even member of Congress. Participating in local elections can have an immediate impact on voters daily lives.”
Early voting continues in most towns until 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4. The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has created a list of the locations and hours of all early voting sites at demnc.co/earlyvote17.
On Election Day, November 7, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. People in cities with elections can see their personal ballot by following the directions at demnc.co/ballot.
For more on the study, go to demnc.co/2015close.