Shatonga Pittman, fills out her ballot while her son Arden Drake, 6, looks on Nov. 3 at Nash County's Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. Calvin Adkins / Carolina Public Press

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Both candidates for chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court have filed election protests disputing the outcome of the election, in which Republican candidate Paul Newby holds a small lead after all votes have been counted. 

Newby filed his protests when counties were finishing their counts of absentee-by-mail ballots. At the time, he had a narrow lead over his Democratic opponent, Cheri Beasley. Later she went ahead in the count, but he has since moved into the lead again. 

All eight counties where Newby filed his protests dismissed the campaign’s claims that absentee-by-mail ballots were accepted improperly. Newby has yet to file an appeal with the N.C. State Board of Elections and has until early next week to do so. A spokesperson for the state GOP, which is assisting Newby’s protests, said the party will not comment on legal strategy. 

In a role reversal, Beasley filed protests in 90 counties Tuesday afternoon disputing what her campaign calls “over 2,000 absentee and provisional ballots that were wrongfully rejected.”

As it stands, Newby is leading Beasley by 406 votes, or a difference of seven-thousandths of a percent out of the almost 5.4 million votes cast in this race. 

In addition to the protests, Beasley has requested a recount. By state law, her request triggers a mandatory recount since the candidates are separated by fewer than 10,000 votes. 

According to a report by FairVote, a nonprofit group that advocates for democratic reforms, the average change in victory margin in statewide recounts around the country from 2000-19 was 430 votes. In an election this close, a recount could increase Newby’s lead, shrink it or flip it to a Beasley victory. 

In conjunction with the protests, there are still enough variables at play to flip the result of this election, the results of which will likely not be known until after Thanksgiving. 

The State Board of Elections scheduled its meeting to certify statewide results on Nov. 24, while also giving counties a recount deadline of Nov. 25, according to press releases the board issued Tuesday. The election protests could still be ongoing at that time. The state can certify most of the state’s elections while leaving some races, such as the one for chief justice, to be certified later.

Several counties are combining the beginning of their recount proceedings with preliminary hearings on Beasley’s protest, which will largely be Friday. 

Given that the protests are widespread and all address the same issues, Beasley’s campaign asked the State Board of Elections to intervene in the election protests and issue a standard guidance to all 90 counties on how to proceed. 

In its letter, the campaign did not disparage any counties or make any accusations of fraud. Instead, Beasley pointed to the complex nature of election administration and the changing decisions from state and federal courts on which by-mail ballots could be counted as the reason for the alleged errors in counting by-mail ballots. 

“Even in a year without the twists and turns we have seen in 2020, county boards make some errors,” the letter to the state board said.

“However, this year presented unique challenges to the candidates, the voters and especially our 100 county boards.”

Jordan Wilkie

Jordan Wilkie is a Report for America corps member and is the lead contributing reporter covering election integrity, open government, and civil liberties for Carolina Public Press. Email jwilkie@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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