Politics & Government

NC elections board could consider key ballot appeal this week

Attorney General Roy Cooper, right, holds a small lead over incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, left, in the gubernatorial election, which is not yet certified.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, right, holds a small lead over incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, left, in the gubernatorial election, which is not yet certified. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

North Carolina’s election board could formally consider later this week a Republican attorney’s demand for a manual recount of Durham County ballots that could affect the not-yet-resolved race for governor.

The State Board of Elections met Sunday to discuss the lawyer’s request, which seeks to accelerate the appeal of a decision by the Durham County elections board earlier this month denying the recount request.

The three-member Durham board decided unanimously Nov. 18 there was no proof the tally of 94,000 ballots was wrong, although the results of tabulation machines for early in-person voting were entered on election night into the state’s computer by hand because of equipment failure.

The ballots are important because unofficial results show Democrat Roy Cooper leading Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by 7,700 votes from 4.7 million cast. Some counties, several of them among the state’s largest, haven’t finished their counting or have other appeals pending. The state board was supposed to certify a winner Tuesday but that won’t happen now.

Meeting by conference call, state board members said Sunday they wanted more documents from Durham’s board before taking up the appeal. “We don’t have a record, we don’t have an order from Durham County,” Democratic board member Joshua Malcolm said, adding later that it appeared “Durham is really the crux of this whole thing.”

State board Chairman Grant Whitney laid out a timetable that could have the five-member panel – three Republicans and two Democrats – hearing the appeal Thursday.

McCrory last week began the process to seek a statewide recount once all 100 counties complete their formal canvassing of results, which include counted provisional and absentee ballots. A recount request is granted when the margin is 10,000 votes or less.

In citing the lawyer’s request for an expedited hearing, McCrory campaign said in a press release Saturday that it will be prepared to withdraw the statewide recount request if “a Durham recount provides the same results as earlier posted.” The statewide recount would be performed by counting machines, not by hand. Board staff said Sunday the agency had not received any formal document from McCrory’s campaign affirming its willingness to withdraw the statewide recount request.

Cooper, the outgoing attorney general, declared himself the winner on election night, when he led by 5,000 votes. His campaign and other Democrats intensified their efforts to get McCrory to concede last week, when Cooper also unveiled his transition team leadership.

Also pending is the lawsuit filed by the leader of a conservative-leaning group last week seeking to prevent a final vote count until all the addresses of voters who used same-day registration during early voting are verified. A federal court hearing is scheduled for Friday in Raleigh to consider the Civitas Institute’s demand. The board on Sunday took action to hire private lawyers to represent them in the case.

The court and board actions also could affect other too-close-to-call races for state auditor and a few General Assembly seats.