Buncombe County poll worker Terry Davis checks in Brandon Williams at the Shiloh Community Center in Asheville on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press
Buncombe County poll worker Terry Davis checks in Brandon Williams at the Shiloh Community Center in Asheville on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

The Durham Board of Elections meeting closed late Friday to a round of applause and praise for Durham’s elections staff. 

“The meeting is concluded,” said Philip Lehman, chairman of the Durham BOE. “The election is concluded.” 

And so it was, for Durham. The board worked through all of its election challenges, denied an election protest, and closed the book on 2020, almost. 

Some administrative tasks remain for the elections staff, as they do around the state. There’s the sorting of by-mail and early-voted ballots into the precincts where the voters come from and the finalizing of voter history used for maintaining the registration list. 

And then there’s the pending recounts. 

In a year with record turnout, almost 5.4 million votes cast, Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley led Republican candidate Paul Newby by 35 votes in the race for chief justice of the state supreme court, as of late Friday night. 

Every county except Robeson submitted votes on Friday, though there are five other counties that still have not certified their election results. The statutory deadline to do that was Friday, though counties can be granted an extension and are expected to finish first thing next week. 

Robeson used provisional ballots this year at the highest rate in the state and has 1,472 to review.

Based on historical trends and the rates around the state, about half of those ballots will be counted in full or in part, and will make the difference in the Supreme Court race. 

Regardless, the race will be close enough for either candidate to request a recount. 

If that happens, every county in the state will have to run though each and every one of their ballots. Even though it is for a single race, it could take days. Smaller counties will have to run ballots through scanners one by one, while large counties will run ballots through high-speed machines. 

Recounts rarely change results, though across the entire state, it’s feasible that a margin as close as this one could flip. 

Newby also protested election results in Duplin, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Robeson, Scotland and Wake counties. Durham and Guilford counties voted to dismiss Newby’s protest and certify the race, while New Hanover is meeting Monday to discuss it and decide on certification. The other counties had not responded to questions from Carolina Public Press as of early Saturday morning. 

Durham dismissed the protest in a 5-0 vote of the bipartisan board, noting that every ballot the county accepted was in line with guidance from the State Board of Elections.

The county had even done an extra audit of all its by-mail ballots in advance to make sure each was processed properly. Out of over 47,000 ballots, the county found 69 errors, which it corrected. 

Once a county gives written notice of its decision, Newby will have five days to appeal to the N.C. State Board of Elections. If the state board rules against him, Newby can appeal to state court. Both Newby and Beasley currently sit on the state Supreme Court and would potentially have to recuse themselves if an appeal reach that level. 

The protests are over which absentee-by-mail ballots were accepted, but the issues Newby raises have already been addressed by state and federal courts, which both ruled on the decision. The rules, as they are now, were allowed to stand.

The State Board of Elections is scheduled to certify statewide results on Nov. 24. If the recount for the chief justice race is not complete, or the protests have not been settled, the state can move to certify other races and leave that one pending. 

Among the certified races will be the election for president. As of Friday, it became official that North Carolina will send its electors to give the state’s 15 electoral college votes to Donald Trump. His Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, won enough other states to be the president-elect even without North Carolina’s coveted swing vote. 

While most news organizations across the country announced Nov. 7 that Biden was the apparent winner, after picking up the key state of Pennsylvania, on Friday most also announced  that Biden was the apparent winner in Georgia, giving him a 306 to 232 victory nationally, the same as Trump had in 2016.

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Jordan Wilkie is a former Report for America corps member and former reporter at Carolina Public Press. To reach the newsroom, email us at news@carolinapublicpress.org.

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