Attorney General Roy Cooper on Monday named the leaders of his transition team to begin replacing a governor who is not ready to go — at least not until all the votes have been counted and the legality of a few hundred ballots that Republicans have questioned is resolved.
The announcement comes as Gov. Pat McCrory’s opponents are ratcheting up the pressure to portray him as obstinate. Democratic politicians and groups representing state workers, educators and environmentalists all called on Monday for McCrory to concede.
On Friday, Cooper’s lead election-law attorney, Marc Elias of Washington, D.C., said the campaign has calculated that the Democratic attorney general’s margin over McCrory has stretched from about 5,000 on election night two weeks ago to nearly 8,000 votes, which he said is insurmountable given the mix of counties not yet fully counted. A candidate can call for a recount if the difference in votes is fewer than 10,000. The State Board of Elections’ incomplete data puts the gap at around 6,500 votes.
In a typical election, all the provisional and absentee ballots would have been counted by now. Provisional ballots are votes that are cast by people whose eligibility is in question on Election Day.
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But the final counts have been delayed by dozens of protests filed by Republicans around the state and supported by McCrory; by issues with voters who registered at Division of Motor Vehicles offices but didn’t show up on election rolls; and by reviews of absentee and provisional ballots and other delays. While some of the state’s 100 counties — around a dozen — have finished counting provisional and absentee ballots, other counties are still in process. It is possible the outcome won’t be official until December.
Tuesday morning, the State Board of Elections meets to discuss what kinds of guidelines county election boards should use in deciding how to evaluate and count contested ballots.
Cooper declared victory on election night and again in a video released Sunday. In a statement Monday, he said he couldn’t wait.
“It’s 40 days until I take the oath of office,” he said. “It would be irresponsible to wait any longer to tackle the issues we campaigned on across the state.”
McCrory’s campaign spokesman, Ricky Diaz, said the as-yet uncounted votes and other uncertainties should be resolved before the contest is over.
“Why is Roy Cooper so insistent on circumventing the electoral process and counting the votes of dead people and felons?,” Diaz said in an emailed response. “It may be because he needs those fraudulent votes to count in order to win. Instead of insulting North Carolina voters, we intend to let the process work as it should to ensure that every legal vote is counted properly.”
The McCrory campaign contends that votes of deceased persons and ineligible felons need to be tossed out. The Cooper campaign has said that scattered reports of such votes aren’t enough to make a difference.
Chris LaCivita, McCrory’s campaign strategist and an ex-Marine, tweeted on Sunday night: “You never ever give up a fight until your out of ammunition.”
Democratic politicians on Monday held five news conferences across the state to push for McCrory to concede. In Raleigh, U.S. Reps. David Price of Chapel Hill and G.K. Butterfield of Wilson delivered the message at state Democratic Party headquarters.
Butterfield said the election protests targeted counties with large African-American communities and organizations that sought to turn out black voters.
“There is no evidence whatsoever, not a scintilla of evidence that there’s systemwide fraud in North Carolina,” Butterfield said.
Cooper has turned to a trio of transition advisers with Democratic experience reaching back to the administration of four-term Gov. Jim Hunt: Kristi Jones, who has been his chief of staff at the N.C. Department of Justice for a decade; Jim W. Phillips Jr., a longtime friend and attorney in Greensboro; and Ken Eudy, founder of a strategic communications agency.
Before joining Cooper’s office, Jones worked for the Hunt administration in several capacities. She has said her proudest endeavor was as executive director of an initiative on race relations.
Jones is an N.C. Central University graduate who obtained her law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. She grew up in Wilson and now lives in Raleigh. She worked on previous political campaigns for Cooper and Hunt.
Phillips and Cooper attended UNC-Chapel Hill together, and have remained close. Phillips represented him in a long-running defamation lawsuit stemming from a campaign for attorney general.
Phillips worked on one of Hunt’s campaigns, became his legislative counsel and was appointed to chair the UNC Board of Governors.
Eudy is a former executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party. He’s a former newspaper and TV political reporter, and later started the Capstrat agency. In November, he moved into the role of chairman of the company.