Political newcomer Mario Benavente maintained a six-vote lead over incumbent Antonio Jones to secure the District 3 seat on the Fayetteville City Council following Friday’s canvass by the Cumberland County Board of Elections.
Benavente’s win was certified Friday by the board, but Jones is eligible to request a recount.
The canvass was conducted at the Board of Elections office at 227 Fountainhead Lane.
The unofficial tally on July 26, which was Election Day, had Benavente edging Jones by six votes — 1,012 to 1,006 — in the tightest race of the night in the Fayetteville municipal election.
On Friday, the absentee ballots were added to make the election’s unofficial returns official. Benavente and Jones each received four votes in Friday’s canvass, making the official tally 1,016 to 1,010, with Benavente still maintaining a six-vote edge over Jones.
Benavente, who attended the canvass, burst out laughing at the outcome, which solidified his victory to represent District 3.
The elections board certified the overall 14,910 ballots that were cast in the election. That included the 198 absentee ballots added during the canvass. A total of 24 provisionals were added Thursday.
In all, 10,551 voters cast ballots on Election Day. An overall 4,137 ballots were cast during early voting.
“We always felt confident about the outcome of the race,” Benavente said following the canvass. “But I can’t lie and say that we weren’t somewhat nervous of the potential. They kind of iced the kicker last night when they delayed the absentee count.
“We’re ready to celebrate today,” he said.
Jones did not immediately return phone messages left Friday.
He told CityView TODAY after the municipal election that he intends to ask for a recount should he remain eligible for one. With the addition of the absentee ballots, Benavente’s win remains no more than 1% of the total votes cast.
Jones can request a recount, which would be held Thursday morning, according to Angie Amaro, the interim director for the Board of Elections.
"We're long past the era of the hanging chad," said Benavente, referring to the computers of today that tally election results. "So, I'm not too worried about a recount."
The request for a recount has to be made in writing, and the Board of Elections must receive it by 5 p.m. on the first day of business following the canvass.
“We don’t know. He may not,” board member Irene Grimes said of Jones asking for a recount.
“I would do it,” Billy King, another member of the Board of Elections, said during a break in the proceedings.
For a non-statewide ballot item in North Carolina, a candidate has the right to request a recount if the difference between the votes for the candidate and the votes for a prevailing candidate is not more than 1% of the total votes cast, according to the state recount law.
"The provisionals and the absentees were certainly — those being outstanding were a question mark," Benavente said. "The way these ballots are counted, the way these computers work, a recount is just going to be a third victory at this point."
Jones, 48, is a pastor and a real estate agent. He was appointed to serve as the District 3 representative in December 2021.
Benavente, 32, is a first-generation American who was born in Korea. He has listed his occupation as a community organizer and legal professional. He recently earned his law degree from N.C. Central University.
This was his first run for public office.
"Just ready to put that same level of hard work effort we did to win this campaign, actually serving my district and my hometown of Fayetteville," he said. "We have a lot of energy, and we can't wait to raise the expectations of what people expect from their council members."
In another close race, challenger Brenda McNair's win over incumbent Larry Wright was verified by an official 681 to 661 vote with the addition of the absentee ballots.
City Council inauguration
The mayor and the City Council are set to be sworn in during an inauguration ceremony scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Seabrook Auditorium on the campus of Fayetteville State University. The event is open to the public.
The program will include administering the oath of office, a brief meeting for the council to elect a mayor pro tem and a reception, according to a release from the city.
Mayor Mitch Colvin also is scheduled to deliver an opening address.
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.