Judge cancels ag commissioner special election in North Carolina

It's January and the North Carolina agriculture commissioner's race hasn't been decided. A judge canceled the special election in Carteret County that would have settled the drawn-out affair.

The turmoil began when 4,438 votes were lost in the Nov. 2 election. The mistake was blamed on misinformation about the storage capacity of the voting machine.

Following recounts, Republican Steve Troxler led his Democratic opponent Britt Cobb by 2,287 votes.

The State Elections Board opted to hold the election in just one county rather than calling a statewide election. Under the move, the 4,438 people whose votes were lost, plus about 20,000 others who are registered but didn't vote in the Nov. 2 election would have been allowed to go back to the polls Jan. 11.

Both candidates filed complaints about the decision, calling the decision strange. And the judge ruled against holding the election in only one county. The State Elections Board could appeal or figure out another way to end the contest.

Cobb says state law is clear and calls for a statewide election. “The election laws are very clear when something like this happens. The new election will be in the jurisdiction of the election, in this case a statewide election. The unfortunate part is no one wants to see us go through the expense of that.”

Troxler proposed letting the 4,438 who lost votes return to the polls to decide the election. The state elections board decided in favor of voting in one county — combining the lost votes with those who registered but did not vote.

Troxler, a NASCAR fan, put it simply when he said he felt like he had just finished a 500 lap race and was asked to run 50 more laps.

“The election's not over, so I don't think there are any winners, losers or ties,” Cobb says.

Meanwhile, the race continued at the same “gentlemanly” pace that Cobb and Troxler agreed to at the start of the season.

“Both of us have stayed position and maintained a relationship,” Troxler says. “We're going to be friends when it's over with.”

Troxler says that's one of the unique things about working in agriculture. “This is different than run of the mill politics. This is something I've known a long time about working around agriculture people. It's the way we raise our children.”

While gearing up for the election, both candidates have been in contact with each other. They serve on the Phase II board and have known each other for about five years.

“We both talked back before the campaign started and both committed that it would be a clean, gentlemanly campaign,” Cobb says. He sees it being a positive because the attention will be on agriculture in the race.

Cobb began running TV commercials in Carteret County soon after the decision to hold the election was made. Troxler vowed to campaign door-to-door.

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