By Joel Barrett, Managing Editor
Thursday, November 23, 2006 — Democratic challenger Larry Kissell is down but he’s not out.
The candidate for the District 8 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives said Tuesday night he’ll seek a manual count of ballots in what turned out to be the closest House race in the U.S.
"Today's machine recount of ballots in the remaining counties of the 8th District continued to narrow the gap in this tightening race, but more importantly clearly indicated to me there remains uncounted votes in the Congressional election,” Kissell said.
Kissell pointed to Cabarrus County , where “merely by repeating the exact same process of feeding the ballots through the same machines, 28 previously uncounted preferences for Congress once counted as ‘undervote’ ballots with regard to the top of the ticket, were recorded.”
“As such, I've requested a sample hand/eye visual inspection of the ballots in each county to be supervised by the State Board of Elections to ensure all the votes be counted. I owe nothing less to the voters of this District than to fight for every vote to be counted regardless of the candidate of their choice,” he said.
A recount of votes this week narrowed incumbent U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes' lead over challenger Kissell
With machine recounts complete in all 10 of the district's counties Tuesday evening, Kissell had shaved Hayes' lead to 329 votes - out of more than 121,000 cast - thanks to a net gain of 13 votes in Cabarrus, Cumberland, Hoke, Montgomery, Richmond and Union counties.
Anson, Mecklenburg and Stanly counties completed their retabulation of votes from the Nov. 7 election on Monday.
John Wallace, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party and the Kissell campaign, said he filed paperwork Tuesday requesting the hand recount, which will be carried out next week in 3 percent of the district's precincts.
Under state election law, a full hand recount would be ordered if the results in the sampled precincts varied enough from the machine recount's results to potentially reverse the race's outcome if they were extrapolated to the entire district.
In Hayes' home of Cabarrus County, Kissell added 15 votes to his previously reported total, while Hayes added 13 votes - a gain of two for the Democrat. And in Kissell's home of Montgomery County, the challenger added eight votes while Hayes lost one for a net pickup of nine votes for Kissell.
In Hoke, Hayes gained a single vote, while in Union County Kissell lost two votes and Hayes gained one - a net gain of three for Hayes. Hayes dropped three votes in Richmond.
And in Cumberland, Hayes dropped three votes while Kissell dropped two _ a net gain of one for the challenger. In Scotland County, Kissell added four votes while Hayes picked up two _ a net gain of two for Kissell.
Wallace said the big shift in the Cabarrus vote totals demonstrated the need for recounts in a close race.
"These are good machines," he said of the optical scan machines used there. "They're just not capable of being perfect. In close elections, it requires careful attention."
Kissell, a high school teacher, ran a mostly grass-roots campaign against Hayes, an heir to the Cannon family textile fortune who is seeking a fifth term in the U.S. House representing a district that stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville. Boosted by an activist volunteer base and strong Democratic turnout on Election Day, Kissell ran much closer to Hayes than many observers anticipated.
“My understanding of this process is that a sampling of three percent of random precincts, but no less than one precinct per county, will be audited visually Wednesday and Thursday of next week. If the state determines that a variation exists sufficient to influence the election once extrapolated across a district-wide visual inspection, then it is their obligation to do so, as I feel it's my obligation to request, given today's observations,” he said.
Hayes led by a little more than 450 votes after election night, when he first claimed victory, then saw his margin shrink by almost 120 votes late last week after hundreds of provisional ballots were counted.
Because Kissell trails by less than 1 percentage point, state law gives him the right to demand both a machine recount and a hand recount.
-Associated Press contributed to this report.