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NC’s Election Results Won’t Budge This Week

A masked voter makes his mark Tuesday at the South River Merrimon Fire & EMS in Carteret County. Photo: Dylan Ray

If you’re anxiously looking for further vote totals in in North Carolina’s tight national, state and local races, let it go. They’re frozen.

In a press conference Wednesday, state elections officials said unofficial vote totals will not be complete until after Nov. 12, when most counties are holding official count meetings for remaining absentee ballots.

There are roughly 116,000 absentee ballots listed as still outstanding, and while that number may be reduced somewhat through the next week, the vote counts won’t be added to the state system until then.

Elections officials stressed that they are following established state law and procedures and are more interested in accuracy than speed.

“As has been our constant refrain this election season, our job is to the count right, as fast as we can, but above all, correct,” State Board of Election Chair Damon Circosta said Wednesday.

State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell said that despite the high turnout and needed COVID-19 precautions, the process is the same as for prior elections. She asked for patience.

“We will continue the same processes of chain of custody, of reconciliation, all of the steps that we have taken as elections professionals for decades to ensure the security and the integrity of North Carolina elections,” she said. “So what we ask at this point in time is let the process happen just as it has in previous elections and with that we will be able to ensure an accurate and fair election for North Carolinians and they can have confidence in the outcome of the votes that they cast.”

State law requires counties to schedule absentee count meetings two weeks ahead of Election Day and send out public notice of the date, location and times, Brinson Bell told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“So what we ask at this point in time is let the process happen just as it has in previous elections and with that we will be able to ensure an accurate and fair election for North Carolinians and they can have confidence in the outcome of the votes that they cast.”

— Karen Brinson Bell, State Board of Elections Director

She said most counties are scheduled to do that Nov. 12 and 13 when they hold their county-level canvasses of ballots.

Some counties are scheduled to hold absentee count meetings earlier and could update results after their meetings, she said. The county meetings are open to the public.

Right now, counties are working through individual voter history records to determine if any outstanding ballots are from voters who cast their votes on Election Day.

With absentee ballot requests at an all-time record this year, that process could take longer than usual. In a typical year only 3 to 5% of the total number of ballots are sent by mail.

Voters sometimes request absentee ballots to vote by mail and then change their minds and vote in person.

Brinson Bell said there are about 116,000 outstanding ballots, but that number is likely to change. People who voted in person during the early voting period have already been taken out of the system and the change will only be the subtraction of voters with outstanding ballots who voted in person on Election Day.

Brinson Bell also said counties are working through ballots with deficiencies that can be “cured” by the voters. Officials have until Nov. 12 to notify voters of issues such as a signature on the wrong line or a witness who did not also print their name next to their signature.

Brinson Bell stressed that the deficiencies can only be addressed on ballots that have already been cast and that no one will be allowed to cast a new ballot.

Voters can check the status of their absentee ballots at https://northcarolina.ballottrax.net/voter/

Also still in the mix are provisional ballots, but for now there’s not a total count on the number. That’s partly due to the high turnout. Brinson Bell said that in 2016 there were about 61,000 provisional ballots cast and of those about 27,000 were cleared and counted.

All told, the number of ballots that could be added to current totals could tip the balance in a number of close races, including several for state legislature, state Supreme Court, Council of State and, although less likely, U.S. Senate and president.

Among the race totals in amber for now are two close legislative races on the coast.

In the 20th Senate District in New Hanover County, fewer than 1,468 votes separate likely winner Republican Michael Lee and incumbent Democrat Harper Peterson, who beat Lee in 2018 by just 231 votes.

In Pitt County, Democrat Brian Farkas is 814 votes ahead of incumbent Perrin Jones for House District 9, which was held by 3rd District Congressman Greg Murphy. The race was once one of two expected to be easier Democratic pickups in the House as a result of court-ordered redistricting in 2019.

The race for chief justice of the state Supreme Court also hangs in the balance with Justice Paul Newby 3,742 votes ahead of current Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, out of more than 5.3 million votes cast statewide.

More than 10,000 votes separate Attorney General Josh Stein from his challenger Jim O’Neill.

At the top of the ticket, Democrats would need to win a vast majority of outstanding ballots to change the outcome.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis leads Democrat Cal Cunningham by 96,707 votes in the U.S. Senate race, and President Donald Trump leads former Vice President Joseph Biden by 76,701 votes.

After the counties complete their canvasses, the state board will hold its official statewide canvass Nov. 24.

At that point, candidates in close races can call for a recount if totals are close enough. The threshold for recounts is 10,000 votes in statewide races and 1% in all other races.

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About the Author

Kirk Ross

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist based in the Triangle. In addition to Coastal Review Online, he covers the legislature and state government for Carolina Public Press and The Washington Post. He can be reached at kirkrossreport@gmail.com.