Coleman Takes the Better Path
The words that had come from the camp of Democratic lieutenant governor's candidate Linda Coleman sounded remarkably familiar.
Coleman initially trailed Republican challenger Dan Forest by 11,103 votes, according to unofficial Election Night returns. A vote canvass closed the gap to 6,800 votes, and election officials were examining a counting problem in Bertie County that could have cut her deficit by another few hundred votes.
So the margin, out of more than 4.3 million votes cast, would have easily allowed for Coleman to call for a vote recount.
For days, her campaign made a recount sound like a foregone conclusion. It had threatened a couple of lawsuits based on excluded voters casting provisional ballots, and even wanted a re-examination of the law that allows for same-day registration for early voters but not Election Day voters.
Then Coleman did the unexpected.
On Monday, the former state House member and Perdue administration official announced that there would be no recount, that she had conceded to Forest.
Perhaps she remembered 2004.
That was the year that North Carolina saw two close races for statewide offices - schools superintendent and agriculture commissioner - descend into a quagmire of court challenges that largely had the effect of demeaning the candidates who pursued them.
In the end, the will of voters was upheld, but not before state legislators were forced to resolve one of the races.
Democrat Britt Cobb ultimately conceded to Republican Steve Troxler in the race for state agriculture commissioner, but only after considering a plan to force a new election.
Republican Bill Fletcher took his challenge of Democrat June Atkinson's 8,535-vote margin in the school superintendent's race all the way to the state Supreme Court, only to see legislators invoke a little known provision of the state constitution that allows them to settle disputed statewide elections.
The dispute kept Atkinson from taking office until seven months after her fellow statewide officeholders had been sworn in.
A cynic might suggest that Coleman, reviewing that history and the unlikelihood of a 6,800-vote margin being reversed by a recount, saw the writing on the wall.
Perhaps, though, she understood that elections run by imperfect humans are never perfect, that trying to undo them by legal fiat only serves to undermine public confidence in the results and ultimately our representative democracy.
Coleman should be given credit for understanding that the law is a floor, not a ceiling.
She had the right to invoke the law to call for a recount. She could have used the law to further challenge the results in a drawn-out mess of legal briefs and court hearings that would have delayed or thwarted the will of the people.
Instead, she rose above the floor to seek a higher standard: doing what is right, not just what is legal.
We can all hope, in doing so, that the 2012 election becomes a precedent for future elections and their aftermath, and not the 2004 election.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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