Uncertainty over how many as-yet uncounted votes will be added to the results of last week’s election is not likely to be resolved by Friday’s deadline, delaying the outcome of close races for governor and other offices.
Counties are dealing with several complications, including election protests and accommodating a late court order to count the votes of those who say they registered at motor-vehicle offices but did not show up on voter rolls.
County elections boards are permitted to extend their vote canvassing, which was to occur Friday, and many if not all are expected to do that, state elections board spokesman Patrick Gannon said. The state board can delay its final certification of the votes by up to 10 days past its own due date of Nov. 29 if some counties don’t report to the state by then, which would postpone the final outcome until Dec. 9.
Counties have been waiting for the state board to let them know which provisional ballots should be counted among those cast by voters who don’t appear on the rolls but claim to have registered or changed their address through the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles or offices that provide public assistance. A recent court order requires those votes to be counted except in cases in which the voter filled out a form at the DMV declining to register.
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The state Department of Transportation and the elections office have been identifying those voters and the process is continuing, according to both agencies.
Last month a federal judge ruled that North Carolina elections officials must protect those who thought they had registered through the DMV and state agencies that take applications for Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance. Organizations had sued contending the state has failed to comply with the federal “motor voter” law.
Wake County Elections Director Gary Sims told the Wake elections board Thursday morning that the county was waiting for clarification from the state on the DMV votes. Sims said that could amount to about 1,000 ballots in Wake.
Meanwhile, the Wake board, like others across the state, began the slow trudge through piles of Wake’s provisional, absentee and problematic ballots. While mail-in, damaged or otherwise questionable ballots are part of their chore, the main effort will be to determine whether about 60,000 provisional ballots cast in North Carolina are valid. Typically, fewer than half of them are eligible to be counted.
Hanging in the balance are a number of contests, most prominently the one between Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper for governor. The Democratic attorney general leads the Republican incumbent by about 5,000 votes.
The McCrory campaign announced Thursday evening that new complaints alleging voter fraud have been filed in 50 counties. Protests claiming irregularities related to absentee ballots have also been filed in a dozen counties.
The work of sorting through ballots is being done by three-member election boards in each county made up of two Republicans and one Democrat and appointed by the State Board of Elections, whose members are in turn appointed by the governor.
Earlier this week, the Wake elections board determined that 3,390 absentee ballots were valid and could be counted. That number could grow as the deadline for military and overseas ballots to arrive was 5 p.m. Thursday.
Wake was still scrutinizing 6,743 provisional ballots, which are given to those whose eligibility to vote could not be determined on Election Day.
Some determinations were straightforward and others more difficult to sort out. As the Wake board went over ballots at a warehouse in Raleigh, county staff conducted required audits and prepared questioned ballots for the board.
During a lunch break, Chairman Ellis Boyle told reporters that everything the board had seen so far was ordinary.
Asked whether he felt more pressure because the provisional votes could change the outcome of the governor’s race, Boyle said, “We take it seriously. Is it important this time? Sure. We always take our responsibility seriously.”