Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has formally requested a recount of votes in his close race with Democrat Roy Cooper.
Two weeks after Election Day, Cooper is moving ahead with preparations to take office as governor but McCrory has sought to raise doubts about the integrity of the election.
More than half of the state’s 100 counties reported final results on or before Tuesday, even as county officials awaited guidance from the State Board of Elections on how to deal with allegations from Republicans of people voting in two states, ineligible felons voting and absentee voters who died before Election Day. Those questioned ballots add up to a few hundred, not the thousands of votes by which McCrory trails.
A recount would happen after all counties report final results and only if fewer than 10,000 votes continue to separate Cooper and McCrory. More than 4.69 million votes were cast in the race.
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In his letter to the State Board of Elections, McCrory wrote, “With serious concerns about potential voter fraud emerging across the state, it is becoming apparent that a thorough recount is one way the people of North Carolina can have confidence in the results, process and system.”
McCrory’s request came Tuesday at about the same time the state elections board was finishing an hours-long meeting spent hashing out guidance for county elections boards. The state board heard from several attorneys representing Republicans, Democrats and voting rights advocates. The meeting drew an audience of about 200.
Chuck Stuber, the Republican candidate for state auditor, is also requesting a recount in his contest with Democratic incumbent Beth Wood, who holds a lead of around 3,000 votes, according to the state elections board.
Democrats are pressuring McCrory to concede, and Cooper this week announced a transition team. Cooper’s campaign says he leads by more than the changing margin reported by the state elections board, which stood Tuesday evening at nearly 6,200 votes.
Cooper campaign manager Trey Nix said a recount won’t change the outcome.
“This is nothing but a last-ditch effort from Governor McCrory to delay and deny the results of this election,” Nix said in a statement.
At its meeting, the state elections board instructed county boards that have not yet done so to continue counting provisional and absentee ballots and canvassing the results. If boards find irregularities that could change the outcome of a contest, then those should be referred to the state board for consideration.
Last week, McCrory and Republican interests had asked the state board to assume jurisdiction over dozens of complaints about voter eligibility. The first wave of county boards that have considered the complaints have overwhelmingly found no evidence of problems. The state board denied that request.
The board also agreed to make sure county officials understood that there is a distinction between challenges and protests. Anyone challenging an individual’s eligibility to vote must do so at least 25 days before election day or on Election Day.
Cooper’s and the Democrats’ attorneys have argued since last week that these contested votes are challenges that are not valid because they were made after the deadline. The GOP and McCrory attorneys contend those are actually protests alleging problems with the administration of the election, and can be considered.
If a county board determines that substantial evidence has been provided that there was a violation, irregularity or misconduct, and that it might affect the outcome of the election, then it must send that protest to the state board.
Kevin Hamilton, a Seattle-based attorney for Cooper, told the board that all of the votes questioned by the Republicans only amount to a few hundred and would not change the outcome of the governor’s race. John Branch, a Raleigh attorney for the McCrory campaign committee, disagreed and said the outcome of the protests “absolutely” could affect the outcome of the election.
Not allowing the protests to proceed would be an abdication of responsibility by the state and county boards, Branch said.
The state elections board will also keep an eye on appeals of county decisions to determine if the outstanding votes would make a difference in the governor’s race.
Counties will also be advised by the state board that they must afford due-process rights to people in danger of having their votes discounted by notifying them in writing and giving them less than a week to respond.
Final vote verification by the state will come after all counties have submitted their vote counts.