State Politics

Day 13: NC governor’s race unsettled as Cooper plans transition, McCrory team fires back

The standoff in the race for North Carolina governor stretched into a 13th day on Monday as Democrat Roy Cooper named a transition team and Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign accused him of “circumventing the electoral process.”

Meanwhile a Charlotte lawyer has found himself on the hot seat as chairman of the state elections board.

Grant Whitney Jr. will preside over a meeting Tuesday where the board will consider additional ground rules for what’s become a stream of challenges to ballots cast for the Nov. 8 election.

While disputed elections and statewide recounts aren’t unheard of in North Carolina, this one may be unprecedented in the scope of its challenges. McCrory’s team has questioned ballots in more than half the state’s 100 counties.

As counties have counted more votes, Cooper, the attorney general, has seen his lead grow from around 5,000 to around 6,500 votes, according to the state board of elections.

On Monday he named longtime chief of staff Kristi Jones and Jim Phillips, a Greensboro lawyer and former chair of the UNC Board of Governors, as co-chairs of his transition. Raleigh consultant Ken Eudy, a onetime Charlotte Observer reporter, was named executive director. A new governor takes office Jan. 1.

“The governor-elect wants to be able to start serving on Day 1,” said Cooper spokesman Ford Porter. “It’s the responsible thing to do if you expect to lead.”

In a coordinated effort, Democratic lawmakers around the state Monday called on McCrory to concede.

“I understand it’s hard to lose,” Rep. Tricia Cotham told reporters in Charlotte. “McCrory needs to be a statesman and do what the voters wanted and concede this race.”

But McCrory’s team said Cooper is jumping the gun.

They point to an elections board finding that 339 active felons were able to cast ballots.

“Why is Roy Cooper so insistent on circumventing the electoral process and counting the votes of dead people and felons?” said McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz. “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.”

Local elections boards are continuing to resolve protests and count any remaining absentee and provisional ballots. Mecklenburg County’s election board was meeting late Monday to address what were expected to be their final ballot questions.

If the statewide margin ends up being 10,000 or fewer, an automatic recount is triggered. And either candidate can appeal a “contested” election to the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

A Charlotte voice

The state board could have a big voice in whether it ever gets that far.

Leading that board is Whitney, appointed to the position in January by McCrory. A former chairman of the Mecklenburg Republican Party, “Whit” Whitney is a passionate golfer who has played with McCrory.

Admirers say that won’t sway the Eagle Scout in a dispute that will determine whether the governor keeps his job.

“My brother’s a straight shooter,” said U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney. “You’ll never see somebody more honest in his application of the rule of law.”

Grant Whitney, who could not be reached, is a real estate attorney who played golf at Davidson College and later at Wake Forest University, where he was on teams that won consecutive NCAA championships. Now he plays at Myers Park Country Club, not far from his home.

As board chair, Whitney has presided over some marathon meetings in this election year. One lasted more than 10 hours. Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, an advocacy group, said Whitney “seems to listen to the most partisan (Republican) member of the board more than seems necessary.”

But Gerry Cohen, a former longtime legislative attorney who has watched board meetings, said Whitney “has done a very good job of herding cats.”

“(Board members) really have shown themselves to be following the law,” he said. “Not everyone has agreed with what they’ve done, but I think they’re committed, especially Grant Whitney, to taking things seriously and trying to apply the law and the facts.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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