EXPLAINER: Why the presidential race hasn’t been called in North Carolina

EXPLAINER: Why the presidential race hasn’t been called in North Carolina
Voters are assisted at a polling location at the South Regional Library in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Gerry Broome)

ABC News and The Associated Press have not declared a winner in North Carolina’s presidential contest because the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is too early to call -- and that’s largely because of absentee and provisional ballots.

Trump, who is locked in a tight battle with Biden to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, prematurely claimed early Wednesday that he won the state.

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“We’ve clearly won North Carolina, where we’re up 1.7%, 77,000 votes with only approximately 5% left. They can’t catch us,” he said during an appearance at the White House. Trump also said he planned to contest the U.S. presidential election before the Supreme Court.

Though Trump is correct that he held a 76,000-vote lead in the state early Wednesday, the race is too early to call and there are still about 117,000 mail-in ballots left to count (and not all of those will be counted because it is possible some voters voted in-person on Election Day, or missed the deadline or opted to not vote).

As long as those ballots are postmarked by Nov. 3, state election officials have until Nov. 12 to count them. And when it comes to mail ballots, Biden was outperforming Trump by far.

That means there’s a considerable number of ballots yet to be counted that could give Biden a lead.

Trump is only leading Biden by about 76,000 votes in North Carolina and there are still about 116,000 mail-in ballots that were requested by voters but haven’t yet been received by the board of elections or counted.

The unofficial results so far include more than 977,000 absentee by mail cast by Nov. 2, 3.6 million ballots cast by one-stop early voting and approximately 900,000 ballots cast at Election Day precincts.

Mecklenburg County to start counting absentee ballots

“North Carolina stopped counting votes on election night because there were no more votes to count at that time,” State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said during a news conference on Wednesday. “There are also no more ballots that can be cast for election. All eligible ballots have already left the voters' hands.”

Absentee ballots had to be postmarked on or before Election Day and they are counted as long as they are received by the county board of elections by 5 p.m. Nov. 12.

And any mail-in ballot that arrived after 5 p.m. on Monday did not count toward the Election Day total.

Provisional ballots also haven’t yet been counted and it’s unclear how many of those were submitted in early voting and on Election Day.

Brinson Bell said the total number of those ballots will be announced before noon on Thursday.

In 2016, she said, North Carolina had 61,000 provisional ballots. Less than half, approximately 27,000, ended up being counted. However, there was lower voter turnout on Election Day this year, so the number is likely to be lower.

A voter might receive a provisional ballot if a voter’s record of registration cannot be found, a voter provides an address different from the voter’s registered address, a voter was previously registered in the county but the registration was canceled, an election official is unable to locate a voter’s address in the county’s street lookup files, a voter’s record indicates that the voter has already cast a ballot in the election or a voter requests to vote at a polling place on Election Day that is not the voter’s proper precinct.

Those ballots aren’t processed until they are inspected, reviewed and opened at an open meeting of the county board of elections.

State officials have until Nov. 12 to count all of the remaining ballots.

County boards of elections will hold their canvass meeting at 11 a.m. Nov. 13. For that reason, it is unlikely that a winner in North Carolina will be declared before then.

When Brinson Bell was asked by a reporter on Wednesday if there would be any movement in the state’s numbers before that date, she said “very few exceptions” would make that happen.

The State Board will meet on Nov. 24 to certify the election.

Head of Mecklenburg County's Board of Elections provides update as vote counting continues