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With good reason, counties can extend the time it takes them to finalize their election results. Seven counties met Monday, and two more will meet Tuesday to do just that.
Two counties met to fix significant problems.
Robeson County had previously failed to upload the votes from an early voting site, according to a press release by the N.C. State Board of Elections. Robeson County also needs to process 700 provisional ballots and 30 by-mail ballots.
This will be the last large batch of ballots that could affect the outcome in the chief justice for North Carolina race. It is the closest statewide race and the only one left in question. At the moment, Republican candidate Paul Newby leads Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley by 231 votes.
If Robeson is in line with the rest of the state, only about half of the provisional ballots will be approved, meaning Beasley would have to win about two-thirds of those votes to catch up. The county is expected to finalize its results Monday night.
An error in Washington County significantly hurt Beasley, who had held a slight lead.
Washington County is using an older voting system, called Unity from the election vendor Elections Systems and Software, which the county has had in place since 2006. The county had an unknown error with the Unity system in which the by-mail votes were counted twice, according to the county’s elections director, Dora Bell.
The county staff fixed the error Sunday night, costing Beasley 264 votes and the lead in the race.
The remaining counties altogether have considered, or will consider Tuesday, problems with about a dozen ballots.
Durham and Craven counties had cases where voters cast ballots on Election Day and submitted by-mail ballots that were counted. The counties pulled back those by-mail ballots.
Stanly County will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to upload votes from one ballot that the scanner could not read because a voter mismarked it and to pull back the votes from another ballot that was successfully challenged.
Wake County has one more provisional ballot to consider Tuesday, then it should be done with canvassing.
Rockingham County will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday to certify the election. The county’s elections director retired earlier this year, and the Board of Elections dismissed its deputy director.
The county needs to complete voter history, compile write-in votes, research and vote on provisional ballots and prepare canvass forms for the board to sign, according to state board spokesman Pat Gannon.
Staff from the state board and from the Orange County elections office are assisting in Rockingham County, which “is short-staffed and has been for some time,” Gannon said.
The county uploaded its election results Friday.
Protests, appeals and recount?
New Hanover County met Monday for a preliminary hearing on an election protest from Newby’s campaign, and it voted 3-2 to dismiss the protest. Newby also filed the same protest in Duplin, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Robeson, Scotland and Wake counties. All of them dismissed the protest.
Duplin met Monday morning and dismissed Newby’s protest in a 5-0 vote. The county Elections Board also finalized its voter history and voted to finalize all county election results.
Newby can now appeal those decisions to the State Board of Elections. If the state board also dismisses the protests, Newby can appeal to state court. Both Newby and Beasley currently sit on the state Supreme Court, which could hear the protest.
If current results hold, Newby would be protesting an election that he won.
This year’s elections presented particular challenges to county boards of elections, which had to deal with a massive increase in the use of by-mail voting alongside shifting rules about by-mail voting due to several lawsuits.
Newby’s protest is essentially a relitigation of the issues that have already been solved in the court cases. The counties voted to dismiss the lawsuits largely for this reason and because they were following instructions from the State Board of Elections.
Once the election results are finalized, the race will still be within a small enough margin that either candidate can ask for a recount. Recounts rarely flip the results of a race, though if ballots out of Robeson County narrow the difference between Beasley and Newby, it’s possible that a recount could change the race’s outcome.
To complete the recount, every county will have to put every ballot cast in this election through a tabulator. Durham’s election director is seeking a second high-speed ballot counter, he told his board, but there are none available in the country.
Almost every county in the state will face a similar struggle to efficiently count the over 5.5 million votes cast in this election.
The deadline to request this recount is noon Tuesday.