NILES — “I’m in total shock” were Democrat Rayonte Bell’s words shortly after learning he won the District 5 seat on the Berrien County Board of Commissioners after a recount was held Tuesday.
The results of the recount were announced as 3,944 votes for Bell and 3,940 votes for Republican Bruce Gorenflo.
It’s been a roller coaster ride for the 22-year-old first time political candidate.
He and Gorenflo tied for the seat during the November election, when it was announced both had received 3,934 votes.
Then Gorenflo was declared the winner after a drawing of lots on Nov. 16, after which Bell asked for a recount.
“When they did the drawing, I thought my fate was sealed,” said Bell, when contacted by phone Tuesday.
The drawing of lots is required by state law before a recount can take place. Both men had said they would ask for a recount if they lost the drawing.
Bell said he watched the recount live on YouTube. It took place in the jury assembly room at the South County Building in Niles.
Bell said he expected the recount to continue to show a tie, so Gorenflo drawing the winning lot would remain in place.
Bell believes he ended up winning because his message resonated with voters. He said he wants to help build bridges between different segments of the community and to restore faith in elected officials.
Bell added that he wants to help people put politics aside so they can focus on what’s important.
“Lately, our political environment has become very volatile and very chaotic and aggressive,” said the engineering student at Lake Michigan College in Benton Township. “I think what people need the most is for people to calm down and set aside their differences to focus on the things that unite us. Focus on the needs of the people.”
District 5 includes St. Joseph, Shoreham and precincts 1 and 2 of St. Joseph Township.
Bell is believed to be the first Black candidate elected to represent the St. Joseph area on the county board.
The only other recount in Berrien County was for the nonpartisan race for Galien Village Council president, which took place Friday.
In that race, challenger Paul Palmer edged incumbent Kenneth Chappell by two votes, 105-103, in the November election.
Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler previously said the recount showed no change in vote totals, so Palmer remains the winner.
Tyler said she does not know for sure the reason that 16 extra votes were found during the District 5 recount – six for Gorenflo and 10 for Bell.
Tyler suspects that if some precincts used ball point pens instead of felt tip pens, that the tabulators may have had problems reading the ballots. Both recounts were conducted by hand.
It is recommended that felt tip pens be used, but Tyler said she has no control over what pens are used.
Immediately after the recount concluded, Tyler said the county board of canvassers voted to amend who won the District 5 seat, and then certified the change.
Bell will take his seat in January. He replaces incumbent Bill Chickering, a Republican, who is retiring.