New study shows the long list of NC elections decided by only a vote or two

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Veteran North Carolina government watchdog Bob Hall of the group Voting Matters, Inc. is out with a new and fascinating report today in anticipation of the onset of 2021 municipal elections.

This from the news release that accompanied it:

Study: One vote can turn an election in North Carolina

With early voting set to begin this Thursday in many cities, a new report answers the question:  Does one vote really make a difference in an election?

The new study shows that in a surprising number of cases a single voter can determine the winner in odd-year elections like those being held this year in 461 municipalities.

Key finding: How one person decided to vote – or not to vote – made the difference in who won or lost an election in 39 North Carolina cities in 2019.

“One vote will again be decisive somewhere this year and then somebody will be mad they didn’t bother to vote,” said Bob Hall, director of the new nonpartisan organization Voting Matters Inc.

“Of course, many of the close contests are in small towns but they involve mayors and council members who decide major issues like police oversight, affordable housing, and zoning for a new grocery store or a landfill,” he said. “Local elections are important and every vote really matters.”

Hall said about a dozen 2019 elections ended in ties and were settled by a coin toss or other method that followed a state law requiring that ties in city elections be resolved “by lot.” [Citation below.]

In a tie-vote election for town council in Tabor City in eastern North Carolina, the chair of the Columbus County Board of Elections flipped a gold coin and one candidate called heads – and won. A coin toss also broke ties for council seats in Sylva (Jackson Co.), Hildebran (Burke Co.), Kelford (Bertie Co.), and a second city in Columbus County, Sanderfield.

The tied race for a town board seat in Creswell (Washington Co.) was decided by which candidate pulled the highest numbered piece of paper from a jar.  For the tied race in Whitakers, the director of the Edgecombe County Board of Elections placed pieces of paper with the candidates’ names in a box and another person drew out of the winner. “Whatever way this turns out, I am OK with it,” said Doris Howington before the drawing. She won.

Candidates for mayor in 2019 won by just one vote in Cape Carteret (Carteret Co.), High Shoals (Gaston Co.), Jefferson (Ashe Co.), Love Valley (Iredell Co.), and Teachey (Duplin Co.).

The mayor in Atkinson (Pender Co.) won by two votes, i.e., if one of his supporter had picked the other candidate, the resulting tied election could have led to his defeat.

Other cities with races decided by just one or two votes in 2019 include Aberdeen, Bakersville, Columbus, La Grange, Middlesex, Mount Gilead, Old Fort, and Pantego. A complete list is below.

“Your one vote can have a big impact in a local election and, conversely, the local officials who win can have a big impact on your life,” Hall emphasized. “Their decisions can dramatically affect your neighborhood’s development, drinking water quality, and public health and safety services.”

Early voting begins October 14, but some cities are not paying election boards to open early voting sites. Check the State Board of Elections listing:

People can view their personal ballot by following the directions at

Close North Carolina Elections in 2019

This spreadsheet shows where a mayoral or a council seat election was decided by 2 votes or less in 2019.  One voter’s decision can turn a winner into a loser or cause a tie. In case of a tie (generally after a recount), state law says the county board of elections “shall determine the winner by lot” – by tossing a coin, drawing cards, etc. (See NCGS §163-292, 163-293, 163-294).  Election results are from:

County Location Close Town/City Election in 2019 Victory Margin
Moore Town of Aberdeen Commissioner 2 votes
Pender Town of Atkinson Mayor 2 votes
Mitchell Town of Bakersville Council Member 1 vote
Craven Town of Bridgeton Commissioner 2 votes
Duplin Town of Calypso Commissioner 1 vote
Carteret Town of Cape Carteret Mayor 1 vote
Polk Town of Columbus Council Member 2 votes
Washington Town of Creswell Commissioner tie vote
Rutherford Town of Ellenboro Alderman 1 vote
Martin Town of Everetts Commissioner tie vote
Cumberland Town of Falcon Commissioner 1 vote
Pitt Town of Falkland Commissioner 2 votes
Scotland Town of Gibson Commissioner 2 votes
Martin Town of Hamilton Commissioner tie vote
Gaston City of High Shoals Mayor 1 vote
Burke Town of Hildebran Council Member tie vote
Onslow Town of Holly Ridge Council Member 1 vote
Ashe Town of Jefferson Mayor 1 vote
Bertie Town of Kelford Commissioner tie vote
Lenoir Town of La Grange Commissioner 2 votes
Iredell Town of Love Valley Commissioner 1 vote
Iredell Town of Love Valley Mayor 1 vote
Dare Town of Manteo Commissioner tie vote
Robeson/Scotland Town of Maxton Mayor 2 votes
Nash Town of Middlesex Commissioner 2 votes
Montgomery Town of Mount Gilead Commissioner 2 votes
Richmond Town of Norman Council Member 2 votes
McDowell Town of Old Fort Alderman 1 vote
Beaufort Town of Pantego Commissioner 1 vote
Robeson Town of Proctorville Council Member tie vote
Robeson Town of Rennert Council Member 2 votes
Columbus Town of Sandyfield Council Member tie vote
Northampton Town of Seaboard Commissioner 2 votes
Cumberland Town of Spring Lake Alderman 2 votes
Jackson Town of Sylva Council Member tie vote
Columbus Town of Tabor City Council Member tie vote
Duplin Town of Teachey Mayor 1 vote
Cumberland Town of Wade Commissioner 2 votes
Beaufort Town of Washington Park Commissioner 2 votes
Nash/Edgecombe Town of Whitakers Commissioner tie vote

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