North Carolina chief justice race still tight as counties finish count

RALEIGH — Candidates in North Carolina’s still-undecided races for Supreme Court chief justice and attorney general on Monday awaited final official results from several counties, two of which had to adjust previous tallies due to administrative errors.

Current Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Paul Newby remained in an extremely close election. A statewide recount in that race was likely, as they were separated by only hundreds of votes after nearly 5.4 million had been counted. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper elevated Beasley, an associate justice, to chief justice in early 2019. Newby is the senior associate justice, joining the court in 2005.

As of midday Monday, state results showed Newby more than 200 votes ahead. Beasley narrowly led over the weekend, after boards in about 90 of the state’s 100 counties completed their canvass of results on Friday. The lead flipped early Monday when the Washington County election board amended the results of its mail-in absentee balloting. Officials there mistakenly had created two records for each mail-in vote, according to the State Board of Elections.

The only other county with significant vote totals yet to be counted was Robeson County, whose election board was meeting Monday afternoon. The board was expected to add over 700 provisional and absentee ballots to their totals, as well as results from 1,950 ballots that were cast at an early in-person voting site in Pembroke but inadvertently not uploaded on election night, state officials said.

The Robeson and Washington county errors were located during canvassing procedures, which include auditing and numeric reconciliation, the state board said.

“This is the process working as it is supposed to work,” state board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said in a news release. “This election will not be certified until we are certain the results are accurate.”

A few other county boards meeting Monday were considering only a few ballots or ruling on formal protests filed by Newby. He has unsuccessfully challenged board decisions to count some mail-in ballots received after Election Day.

Rockingham County’s election board won’t meet until Tuesday afternoon. State board workers have been working with the short-staffed Rockingham board to complete post-election duties, state board spokesperson Pat Gannon said Monday.

With the margin in the chief justice race expected to be 10,000 votes or fewer, state law gives the trailing candidate until noon Tuesday to request a statewide recount, in which paper ballots will be again run through tabulator machines.

There are situations where a manual, hand-to-eye recount is possible if the machine recount generates significantly different results.

In the attorney general’s race, Democratic incumbent Josh Stein led Republican Jim O’Neill by midday Monday by more than 14,000 votes, which is outside the recount margin.

The State Board of Elections meets Nov. 24 to certify statewide, regional and judicial results. The late county tally alterations aren’t expected to alter outcomes for top-ballot races, including those for president, the U.S. Senate and House, governor and other Council of State and statewide judicial races. Republicans Tamara Barringer and Phil Berger Jr. already have won their Supreme Court races.

Gaston County moving forward with recount

The Gaston County Board of Elections will conduct a recount of the NC Supreme Court Chief Justice contest beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19. County election officials said that while the recount request is not yet formal, it is highly expected.

Due to social distancing requirements, in-person attendance will be limited to eight members of the public.