As county elections staffs across the state work to verify more than 58,000 provisional ballots, a look at where the votes were cast provides few hints about the eventual outcome of the contest for governor of North Carolina.
Most of them come from the state’s biggest counties, of course, but with a couple of exceptions.
Determinations of which provisional ballots will be counted will be under intense scrutiny next week, as county boards of elections must review their staffs’ recommendations by Nov. 18. At that point, if Attorney General Roy Cooper is still leading Gov. Pat McCrory by less than 10,000 votes, the governor can call for a recount.
Cooper is leading by 4,979 votes in votes counted through Friday. In the last presidential election, more than half of provisional ballots cast were thrown out because the voters didn’t qualify for a variety of reasons. The remaining votes were closely split in the governor’s race with the edge going to McCrory’s 2012 Democratic opponent, Walter Dalton.
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In this election, Democrats account for 36.2 percent of those voting provisional, a bit less than their share of registered voters statewide. Republicans count for 32.5 percent and unaffiliated 30.2 percent, records released Friday show.
All but two counties had reported their number of provisional ballots to state officials by Friday afternoon.
If all provisional votes were counted, and if McCrory were to win the same share of each county’s provisional votes that he won of the county’s already-counted votes, he would narrow the gap with Cooper by more than 1,000 votes. That would not be enough for him to overtake Cooper, although it would keep him eligible for a recount.
As expected, the most populous counties cast the largest number of provisional ballots. Two exceptions stand out: Pitt and Robeson counties.
Pitt County, which is the 14th most populous county in the state with the 12th highest number of registered voters, cast the fourth highest number of provisionals. It is also a Cooper stronghold, located near his home turf in Nash County.
Robeson County has the 22nd largest population in the state and ranks 25th in registered voters. Yet it produced the sixth most provisional ballots. It is solid McCrory territory.
Cooper carried eight of the 10 counties with the most provisional ballots, largely in urban areas. Besides Robeson, McCrory carried Cabarrus, which had the seventh most provisionals. The next several counties after the top 10 also voted for McCrory: Harnett, Gaston, Johnston, Union and Alamance.
Another factor in the votes yet to be counted are absentee ballots that are still trickling in. Those that arrived by Election Day have been counted.
For voters mailing ballots within the country, absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will be counted if they arrive by 5 p.m. Monday and are otherwise eligible. Military and overseas ballots received through next Thursday will also be counted.
According to the State Board of Elections, a little more than 27,000 absentee ballots that were requested have not been returned, and officials expect only a small percentage of them will be. In 2012, fewer than 7,000 that came in after Election Day were deemed eligible.
Cooper’s campaign reiterated Friday that it believes the final outcome will confirm Cooper’s victory.
Both campaigns are asking for contributions to offset the cost of hiring attorneys who specialize in election law to monitor the count of provisional ballots next week and, potentially, a recount after that. Both sides intend to attend all 100 of the county board meetings next week.
Where the provisional ballots were cast
Wake County: 6,798
Mecklenburg County: 3,640
Cumberland County: 2,739
Pitt County: 2,232
New Hanover County: 2,230
Robeson County: 1,941
Cabarrus County: 1,886
Forsyth County: 1,797
Durham County: 1,727
Guilford County: 1,723