Barack Obama's bid to win North Carolina – now only symbolic – turned to thousands of provisional ballots Wednesday that must be sorted, analyzed and counted before they can be added to the Election Day tally.
State Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett estimated there are about 40,000 provisional ballots left to count, cast by voters whose eligibility to vote must be confirmed.
Many provisional ballots are cast when a voter's name does not appear on a precinct's rolls – perhaps if the voter's registration could not be verified or if the voter turned up on Election Day at the wrong precinct. Some voters cast provisional ballots even when they're not registered, and those votes may not be counted unless the person made an effort to register on time.
Bartlett said history suggests that about 65 percent of those ballots will be eligible and they are likely to break toward the winner in numbers similar to that of Election Day. Unofficial election results show Obama with 13,746 votes more than Republican nominee John McCain as of Wednesday evening.
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“It would not be surprising to see the margin increase,” Bartlett said.
That said, most provisional ballots are usually cast on Election Day. And McCain won nearly 53 percent of all votes on Tuesday, while Obama won the votes cast early by roughly the same margin.
Bartlett said counties were beginning to put together totals on the number of provisional ballots filed on Election Day. County election staffs will sift through their provisional ballots to identify ones that they deem viable, those they consider ineligible, and those that are questionable. They'll present those to the county boards of election to review.
County boards will then canvass their results by Nov. 14, and voters will have a chance to challenge the decision. The counties will certify the results on Nov. 20 if no protests are pending.
Rockingham County finished Election Day counting on Wednesday after a glitch failed to report results at five one-stop polling sites. The extra 18,000 votes tallied there a day after the election helped McCain close the gap only by about 300 votes.
With the decision of voters in North Carolina and Missouri still too close to call, Obama has 349 electoral votes to McCain's 162. Obama reached the 270 needed to win the White House late Tuesday night, when polls closed on the West Coast.