Election season in North Carolina is far from over.
As the country prepares for a Donald Trump presidency, our state doesn’t yet know for sure who will serve as governor starting in January.
Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper had a lead of 4,980 votes over Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday, but tens of thousands of votes could still need to be counted.
And that’s not the only race under a cloud of uncertainty. The vote counts are so close in the race for state auditor, attorney general and insurance commissioner that the candidates currently projected to lose aren’t conceding – they want the remaining votes counted first. There’s a similar scenario for the state Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Tamara Barringer.
Here’s what to expect in the coming weeks.
When will we know who won? Best-case scenario is that the results become final at the end of next week: Friday, Nov. 18. That’s when county election officials are scheduled to meet and sign off on the vote totals. Those totals will include provisional ballots and last-minute absentee ballots that are continuing to trickle in by mail.
What about a recount? That could delay the process further, because candidates aren’t likely to request recounts until the updated tallies arrive on Nov. 18.
In order to request a recount, the runner-up candidate must be losing by less than 10,000 votes. That means Cooper’s lead would need to increase by about 5,000 votes in order to avoid a recount. The state auditor’s race is also within that margin, but the vote totals would need to change significantly in the attorney general and insurance commissioner races in order for the projected loser to demand a recount.
The State Board of Elections hasn’t set a schedule for the recount process yet, but it could occur before the end of the month. The state board is scheduled to meet Nov. 29 to certify all election results.
What are provisional ballots? Voters can be required to use a provisional ballot due to various problems with their voter registration: Showing up to the wrong polling place. An address that doesn’t match voting records. A dispute over whether the voter already cast a ballot.
Legally, anyone who shows up to the polls must be given an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot, and no one can be turned away.
Provisional ballots aren’t counted with the regular ballots on Election Day – they’re sealed up to be reviewed later.
Who decides whether the provisional ballots will count? The decision is up to the county Board of Elections, a three-member committee that currently includes two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee. The boards will meet next week to review information about each provisional ballot and decide whether the voter was eligible. Board members won’t see who the person voted for during the review.
Which races have the most potential to flip when more votes are counted? The race for state auditor is the closest, with incumbent Democrat Beth Wood up by just 3,087 votes or 0.06 percent of votes cast.
The governor’s race would take a bigger shift to change, with about 5,000 votes (0.11 percent) separating Cooper and McCrory.
The attorney general and insurance commissioner race are currently well outside the recount margin, so the odds aren’t looking good for Republican attorney general candidate Buck Newton and incumbent Democratic insurance commissioner Wayne Goodwin.
What role do the campaigns have in the process? One word: Lawyers.
Partisan volunteers and attorneys will closely monitor every stage of the process, and any procedural misstep is likely to trigger a lawsuit.
N.C. Republican Party chairman Robin Hayes said Wednesday that the party and campaigns will “deploy hundreds of volunteers and dozens of teams of lawyers across the state to ensure that every vote is counted.”
The effort won’t come cheap: Both McCrory and Cooper’s campaigns emailed supporters Wednesday to ask for donations.