RALEIGH — Election officials in several key states are furiously counting ballots as the nation awaits the outcome of the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden and braces for possible recounts and legal challenges.
Unlike in previous years, states were contending with an avalanche of mail ballots driven by the global pandemic. Every election, what’s reported on election night are unofficial results, and the counting of votes extends past Election Day. This year, with so many mail ballots and close races in key states, counting every vote was expected to take more time.
In North Carolina, elections officials are working through the remaining ballots and will continue to process and count those delivered by the Postal Service through Nov. 12, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
Though Trump is correct that he held a nearly 77,000-vote lead in the state, the race is too early to call with up to 116,000 mail ballots left to count, as well as the potential of thousands of provisional ballots.
The state board had extended the deadline for absentee ballots to be received at local election offices from Nov. 6 to Nov. 12 as part of a consent decree in a state lawsuit by voting rights advocates. They must be postmarked by Election Day. Counties have until Nov. 13 to finish counting.
“Regardless of vote differential, we never stop counting until all eligible votes are counted and added to the final certified and audited results,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the state elections board.
At stake in North Carolina are 15 electoral votes.
“Over 74% of registered voters made their voices heard in this election,” State Board Chair Damon Circosta said Wednesday, adding that election officials were processing 5.5 million ballots.
“North Carolina stopped counting votes on election night because there were no more votes to count that night,” Brinson Bell said.
She said the number of outstanding mail-in ballots stands at 116,200. Some of those people may have elected to vote in-person or not at all. Most counties will be conducting an absentee ballot review meeting on Nov. 12, so that is when we may see some races change.
“With very few exceptions, North Carolina’s election results will not change until November 12 or 13, when all mail-in ballots are received and counted by each county,” Brinson Bell said.
- We won’t know the results of those outstanding mail-in ballots until Nov. 12 or 13. That means we won’t have a North Carolina winner declared in likely either the presidential race or Senate race for at least eight days.
- Currently, the presidential race is 76,721 votes apart, with Trump ahead.
- There are currently no legal challenges at this point in North Carolina.
- While North Carolina may take a while, it is possible for either presidential candidate to hit 270 electoral votes before then.
On Thursday, the North Carolina Board of Elections announced how many provisional ballots were cast this election -- 40,766.
But remember, those are all provisional, so some of them will count and some will not. The ballots still have to be researched and possibly counted at county election offices all over the state.
A ballot is considered provisional if there are questions about whether the voter is eligible to vote. In 2016, a little less than half of the provisional ballots were eligible.
This process happens every year. It is getting extra attention this year because the results are so close.
500 mail-in ballots found during USPS sweep in NC
Channel 9 has learned that sweeps of U.S. Postal Service facilities across the nation have found absentee ballots, which have been turned over to election officials in each state to be counted.
On Friday, mail inspectors in North Carolina found more than 500 ballots across the state, according to the U.S. Postal Service – each of which has now been delivered to various elections boards.
Officials said 261 of those ballots were found at a facility in Charlotte.
All of the ballots have since been delivered to the Board of Elections and will be counted.
A judge ordered the USPS has to perform two sweeps per day in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
Key races remain in limbo
Every year, ballots have to be postmarked by Election Day -- this happens every election, North Carolina counts late arriving absentee ballots.
This year the heat is on though, with numerous close and very important races in limbo. From Donald Trump to Attorney General Josh Stein, candidates are waiting for the final votes in North Carolina to be counted.
What’s left are an unknown number of provisional ballots and as many as 116,200 mail votes. But keep in mind, the actual number of outstanding ballots is likely lower, because many people either voted on Election Day, missed the deadline or chose not to vote.
Trump is leading Joe Biden by more than 76,000 votes in the state. Sen. Thom Tillis is leading challenger Cal Cunningham by more than 96,000.
It will be a steep climb for Democrats in those two races but down the ballot, at least two races remain up in the air.
Republican Paul Newby is only up 3,742 votes on Democrat Cheri Beasley for North Carolina Supreme Court Justice.
In the race for Attorney General, incumbent Democrat Josh Stein leads Republican Jim O’Neill by about 10,000 votes. Both candidates are urging supporters to have patience while votes are counted.
“We believe there is a lot more to the race right now and we are not going to know until the next week or so how things are going to shake out,” O’Neill said.
“Given our margin, I am confident about my reelection,” Stein said.
There is nothing fraudulent, sketchy or concerning about the Board of Elections still needing to count these ballots, and they will, as long as they were postmarked by 5 p.m. on Election Day and received by Nov. 12.
“If we don’t count all of the votes in an election, then why did you have an election in the first place?” said political expert Chris Cooper.