NC race for governor is too close to call. What happens next?

Amidst a successful Republican election night, Governor McCrory seems to have failed.

Roy Cooper leads incumbent Pat McCrory in the North Carolina Governor race by 4,979 votes counted Friday, November 11.  With the race being so close, the North Carolina State Board of Elections announced the procedures it would follow to ensure all the qualifying votes are counted and what the procedure would be in a recount.

The Board of elections protocol will be as follows: First, mail-in absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will be accepted until 5 p.m. on November 14 and overseas and military absentee ballots will be accepted through November 17.  Second, every county will conduct a sample hand-to-eye count of ballots in randomly selected precincts and one-stop locations to confirm results collected by machine.  These counties must conduct their hand-to-eye counts in public.  Third, each county board of elections will meet before certifying the election to make decisions on provisional applications submitted by voters during early voting and on Election Day.  If the board determines that the voter is eligible, the provisional ballot will be counted.  Fourth, Each county board of elections will certify results at public meetings held at 11 a.m. Friday, November 18.  Fifth, if the vote difference is still 10,000 votes or less, a candidate may demand a recount after the county canvass.  The demand for a recount must be in writing and received by the State Board of Elections no later than noon on Tuesday, November 22.  If a recount is demanded, the State Board of Elections Office would issue a schedule, and the counties would conduct recounts individually during open meetings.  Finally, the State Board of Elections will certify statewide results for all contests at a public meeting held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29.  Results in each contest are not considered official until that date.

Elections officials across North Carolina are currently researching about 60,000 provisional ballots.  These ballots must be sorted out by elections staff and then accepted or rejected by county boards of elections by November 18.  Provisional ballots are used when precinct officials cannot immediately verify that a voter is registered to vote in that precinct.  The voter fills out a ballot, which is then sealed in an envelope with an explanation written on the outside to justify why the vote should be counted.  For example, a voter might believe the registration roll is wrong or might have moved recently without updating his or her address.  Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, explained to WRAL news that staffers use North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles databases and other records to verify whether a provisional vote is eligible.  According to Gannon, only about half to one-third of the votes are generally eligible.  “If these are registered voters who registered on time, their ballots will count,” Gannon said.  “If they voted in the wrong precinct, then parts of their ballot, the races they’re eligible to vote in, will count.”

Both candidates will pick up some votes. That means that McCrory would have to win a significant amount of the remaining ballots to actually pull back into the lead.

Wake County has the most provisional ballots, with 6,798.  Mecklenburg County has 3,640, while Cumberland County has 2,739.  County elections boards will have to hold special public meetings next week to vote on whether to accept or reject the provisional ballots, and the decisions are made without seeing which politicians will benefit from each ballot.  “If they are determined to be cast by eligible voters, then they’re opened and tabulated.  Otherwise, they’re kept sealed,” Gannon said.  The process has to be done before next Friday, which is when, under state law, every county must hold a canvass to certify its vote totals.

Although Governor McCrory is claiming that there are voter “irregularities,” both in Durham County and in general,  Joe Cabosky, an assistant professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism who specializes in data analytics, told WRAL news that provisional votes are unlikely to change the results of tight races because they usually follow the overall trend.  In the gubernatorial race, Cabosky noted that most of the provisional ballots are coming from urban counties where Cooper won.  “Both candidates will pick up some votes. That means that McCrory would have to win a significant amount of the remaining ballots to actually pull back into the lead,” he said.  Cabosky also discussed how the provisional ballots are likely to benefit the challenger more than the incumbent because such votes tend to skew toward the Democratic party.  People who experience problems with the voter rolls and therefore casting provisional ballots have traditionally been low-income, elderly, or students.  “If you’re a Democrat in the lead on election night, you’re normally in a good position,” Cabosky said.

This gubernatorial race has many North Carolina citizens wondering why it was so close, especially since Donald Trump won the state.  Several factors influenced what seems to be Governor McCrory’s downfall.  The biggest and most publicized factor is House Bill 2, or H.B. 2.  North Carolina debated, passed, and signed the bill in a one-day special session in March 2016.  The law requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.  The law also left out gay and transgender people from state anti-discrimination protection, and banned local measures that offer protection to the LGBT community.  The national backlash began immediately.  Charlotte lost the NBA All-Star game, which Governor McCrory referred to as “politically correct B.S.”  The All-Star game was projected to generate over $100 million in profits.  The ensuing litigation cost North Carolinians even more.  Shortly after its passing, the North Carolina State Senate transferred $500,000 from the state’s Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund to Governor McCrory’s office in order to handle the litigation over H.B. 2.  According to the state Senate Budget Chairman Harry Brown’s statement to WRAL news, “The governor asked for it.”  However, on September 16, 2016, Governor McCrory filed a Plaintiff’s Notice of Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice, which dropped the lawsuit against the federal government.  In the documents, Governor McCrory cited “substantial costs to the State” as one reason for dropping the lawsuit, writing that it did not serve the “interests of judicial economy and efficiency.”

Many of Governor McCrory’s supporters were bothered by the negative effects this law caused. 

Additionally, the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled numerous tournament and title games out of North Carolina.  The ACC football title game alone generated $32 million in 2015.  Bruce Springsteen and other stars canceled their concerts and appearances.  Businesses like PayPal stopped planned expansions into the state.  PayPal was expected to hire 400 people.  Many of Governor McCrory’s supporters were bothered by the negative effects this law caused.  Other voters were against the way in which the bill was passed to begin with.  Voters like William Brinkley, a business consultant who voted for Governor McCrory in 2012, changed their vote in the 2016 election.  Brinkley told the Chicago Tribune: “I’m totally against the entire scheming that they want to pass something without the populace’s consent.  Trying to do stuff in a closed session is not the way to get stuff done in this state.  I one-hundred percent think it’s an invasion of freedom.”

H.B.2 was created to strike down an LGBT rights ordinance in Charlotte, where Governor McCrory was mayor for 14 years.  Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, gave Governor McCrory a 3,100 vote victory in 2012.  On Tuesday, however, Governor McCrory lost Mecklenburg County by 136,000 votes.

Another place that felt the effects of Governor McCrory’s policies was the city of Wilmington.  Before Governor McCrory took office, Wilmington had a booming $170 million film industry.  Unfortunately, the elimination of state tax incentives for film projects have cut that to about $60 million in 2016.  Governor McCrory won New Hanover County by 15,500 votes in 2012 and lost it by 5,000 votes in 2016.

With the Republican party doing so well on election night, North Carolina Democrats hope they can at least win this gubernatorial race.  Meanwhile, Governor McCrory hopes he is not left behind and in the shadows of the rest of the Republicans’ success.  However, regardless of the result, all North Carolinians hope that the next Governor is able to make North Carolina the most successful state in the country.

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About Josue Jimenez, Managing Editor Emeritus (18 Articles)
Josue Jimenez is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as the Managing Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. He is a Los Angeles, California native, but has lived in Charlotte, NC, since November, 2003. In 2013, Josue graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Global Studies (Concentration in Politics, region Latin America) and Religious Studies (Focus on Early Christianity). From August, 2013- July, 2014, Josue worked as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Grand Rapids, MI. During the summer of 2015, he interned at Fayad Law, PC, where he worked on immigration and criminal defense cases. In the summer of 2016, Josue interned at the Charlotte Immigration Court where he prepared draft decisions for Immigration Judges on immigration matters including cancellation of removal and asylum applications. As well as, consulted with Immigration Judges and Judicial Law Clerks regarding pending decisions. During his final semester at Campbell Law Josue interned in the Legislative Analysis Division of the NC General Assembly. There, Josue assisted attorneys in the Division with numerous projects that dealt with constituent requests to pending legislation. These projects also covered a wide range of legal issues, ranging from multi-state surveys related to health and human services, agriculture, immigration, and aviation, to research on current state and federal law related to employment, local governments, veterans, immigration, and criminal law. Josue also served as the Vice-President of the Student Bar Association and a Peer Mentor during the 2016-2017 academic year.
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