Final election results delayed by court order, vote challenges

Published November 18, 2016

by Laura Leslie, WRAL, November 17, 2016.

Friday is supposed to be the day when counties across North Carolina certify their vote totals from last week's elections, but that is becoming increasingly unlikely to occur.

Voters in dozens of counties have filed protests over the results, and a federal court order concerning voters whose registrations were handled improperly by the state Division of Motor Vehicles in recent years could delay the counting of provisional ballots in numerous counties.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs last month said people whose registrations weren't turned over to elections officials in a timely manner by DMV should be allowed to cast provisional ballots, and those ballots would be counted once DMV records showed that they had indeed tried to register to vote or update their registrations through the agency. State Board of Elections officials told county elections staffers Wednesday to wait for a list of affected voters from DMV before counting those provisional ballots.

Decision 2016 graphicNovember 2016 general election results

"It’s quite possible that many of the counties will extend their canvasses," state board spokesman Patrick Gannon said, referring to the process of certifying election results.

The Wake County Board of Elections was meeting Thursday to discuss and vote on whether to approve 6,798 provisional ballots, then count the approved ballots and more than 3,000 approved absentee ballots.

"I think that every vote is always very important," said Ellis Boyle, chairman of the Wake County board. "We take our jobs very seriously and try to count every vote every time. Is it important this time? Sure, but it's important every time, and we always take that responsibility very seriously."

The outcome of these post-Election Day efforts could affect the results of a number of close races across North Carolina. For example, fewer than 1,000 votes currently separate the candidates in three state legislative races in Wake County.

On the state level, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory hopes to pick up enough support in the final ballots to overtake Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who leads McCrory by about 5,000 votes statewide. Chuck Stuber, the Republican candidate for state auditor, said he plans to call for a recount in his race against Democratic State Auditor Beth Wood because of questions over vote totals.

The McCrory campaign has alleged a voting fraud scheme involving mail-in absentee ballots, saying voters in a dozen counties – Bladen, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Guilford, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, Robeson, Vance, Wake and Warren counties – have filed protests and are seeking investigations that could invalidate ballots.

The State Board of Elections is investigating "irregularities" with Bladen County absentee ballots, where volunteers might have helped people fill out ballots without disclosing that they did so, which state law requires. None of the other county elections boards has referred a protest to the state for review.

"We intend to make sure that every vote is properly counted and voter fraud concerns are addressed before making presumptuous statements about the results of an election that hasn't been decided," McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said.

Late Thursday, the campaign said voters in 50 counties are filing protests alleging that convicted felons voted, other ballots were cast in the names of dead people and some voters cast multiple ballots.

In Wake County, for example, 27 early voters have been challenged. The county board will examine the challenges Friday, but Boyle appeared skeptical about the allegations Thursday.

Cooper's campaign called the fraud allegations unfounded and shameful.

"This is the worst kind of misinformation campaign meant to undermine the results of an election the governor has lost," campaign spokesman Ford Porter said.

A group that works with low-income people said the GOP challenges are racially motivated.

"What is happening is a deliberate and precise attack aimed at undermining the votes of African-American North Carolinians," Melvin Montford, executive director of the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, said in a statement. "The election challenges that have been filed are in areas where we have strong African-American political organizations. Calling these votes into question is an obvious effort to cast doubt on election results with no good reason to do so and disenfranchise black voters."

The Durham County Board of Elections already plans to meet Friday to hear evidence on a separate protest the accuracy of manual vote counts that were submitted on Election Night because of technical problems with data cards in several voting machines.