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With almost all the ballots counted at the end of the canvassing day Friday, Nov. 13, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, holds a 35-vote lead over Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican.
However, the final set of 1,472 provisional ballots from Robeson County had not been added to the total as of 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Regardless of the outcome, Democrats will retain control of the N.C. Supreme Court after the Nov. 3 election. But Republicans made inroads, winning at least two seats, holding out hope for a third if the outcome shifts in the chief justice race.
Newby had led by a small margin since Election Day, but Beasley caught up and passed him late Thursday, Nov. 12, as counting of late ballots continued. During canvassing on Friday, as totals arrived from different counties at different times, Newby took the lead for a while before Beasley took the lead for good.
But with the last ballots counted, except for those provisional ballots in Robeson, her lead dwindled to the 35 votes that separate them.
Protests, provisional ballots, appeals and recounts
Newby filed election protests Thursday in Duplin, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Robeson, Scotland and Wake counties, alleging that each of these counties counted by-mail ballots that were not postmarked by Election Day, were not received on time, or had incomplete information on the return envelope.
For counties that rejected the protests, Newby could appeal. There may also be questions about the way at least one county handled its response to the protest there, which could lead to further disputes in the close race.
While the provisional ballots in Robeson could shift the total and possibly even the lead, the race will clearly remain unusually close for a statewide contest. As a result, a recount is likely, and either candidate can request one.
Newby’s allegations in these counties are a continuation of the legal fight over which by-mail ballots can be counted.
Newby refers to the statutory requirements, where a September settlement in state court between the State Board of Elections and a group backed by a major Democratic law firm changed those rules.
Republicans tried to overturn the state court settlement through appeal and in federal lawsuits, both of which reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which did not take up the cases, leaving the settlement in place.
Other statewide judicial races
Republicans Tamara Barringer and Phil Berger Jr. also won competitive Supreme Court races on Election Day, both by more comfortable margins.
If Newby prevails, Democrats would have a 4-3 advantage. If Beasley survives, the Democratic edge would be 5-2.
Republicans swept races for the North Carolina Court of Appeals, though by only by only a few percentage points in each race.
Democrats previously had a 8-7 advantage of the Court of Appeals, but Republicans Fred Gore, April Wood, Jefferson Griffin and Jeff Carpenter defeated Democrats Lora Christine Cubbage, Tricia Shields, Chris Brook and Reuben Young. Republican incumbent Chris Dillon kept his seat against challenger Gray Styers.
The NC GOP created a judicial victory fund to support Republican judicial candidates and the effort worked, said state Party Chairman Michael Whatley at a press conference on Nov. 4.
“We could not be happier with the judicial races,” he said.
Kate Martin, Jordan Wilkie, Victoria Loe Hicks, Laura Lee and Frank Taylor contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This is article was initially published at 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2020, but has been updated several times, most recently on Nov. 14.