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Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

North Carolina Could Have As Many As 117,000 Mail Ballots Left To Count

Steve Harrison
Thom Tillis declared victory Tuesday night in his race against Cal Cunningham. The state says there are as many as 117,000 outstanding mail ballots left.

North Carolina’s presidential race and U.S. Senate races still haven't been called. President Trump is leading former Vice President Joe Biden by 77,000 votes as of Wednesday, and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is leading Democrat Cal Cunningham by 96,000 votes.

WFAE’s political reporter, Steve Harrison, talks with All Things Considered host Gwendolyn Glenn about what comes next.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Steve, all of the state’s precincts are in. But we are waiting on some outstanding mail ballots, is that right?

Steve Harrison: Yes, that’s right. The (State) Board of Elections says there are about 117,000 outstanding mail ballots that haven’t been returned. Now, it’s important to note that the state is not necessarily going to add 117,000 mail ballots to the final tally, but there is the potential for 117,000 ballots to be counted.

Some of these ballots may not have been returned and could be in the trash. And some of these voters probably voted on Election Day, and that would spoil their mail ballot. The executive director of the (State) Board of Elections, Karen Brinson Bell, says counties are going through their Election Day voting rolls, and then they can start whittling down that list of 117,000 mail ballots. But she said that is a lengthy process and they didn’t have an update as of this afternoon.

Karen Brinson-Bell (recording): And until we complete the voter history process, where we upload the poll book data which in some counties is a manual process, we will not be able to reconcile those absentee ballot request numbers against those who voted on Election Day

Harrison: But the state does plan to update that list of outstanding mail ballots when it can, and knowing how many mail ballots are left is a big deal because it tells us how many votes that Biden and Cunningham could potentially pick up.

Glenn: And do we know how many mail ballots have been arriving yesterday and today?

Harrison: We don’t. Brinson-Bell said she didn’t have an exact number. I spoke with Mecklenburg County Elections Director Michael Dickerson, and he said he had about “two bins” that arrived yesterday, so that’s not particularly scientific. And another thing is we may not know the results of these mail ballots until Nov. 12 or 13. Brinson-Bell said that’s when elections boards have their next scheduled meetings.

And she was asked whether the county boards can speed up their meetings to get the results out sooner. She said no because by state law they need two weeks public notice before they meet. So we may have to wait more than a week to know more. It might not matter for the presidency, but it will for the Senate.

Glenn: And Tillis still declared victory last night, right?

Harrison: He did. His campaign believes there aren’t enough votes left. Cunningham hasn’t conceded, and his campaign said they are waiting until every vote is counted.

Glenn: And we’ve talked a lot about mail ballots. But there is another group of ballots in play, right? Tell me about provisional ballots.

Harrison: Yeah, when people go to the wrong polling place, for instance, they can cast a provisional ballot. It’s essentially set aside and the local elections boards then review those later to how many will count.

Brinson-Bell (recording): There are some different variables as to why someone would vote a provisional ballot. Sometimes it’s as simple as they went to a precint that’s different from the one where they are registered and so they were provided a provisional ballot. It may be they didn’t appear in the poll book correctly.

Harrison: The state doesn’t know how many were cast, but Brinson-Bell said she’s hoping to get results of a county by county survey soon. And it’s not an insignificant number. Four years ago, there were about 26,000 provisionals that were counted in the presidential race. Those provisionals were about the same in 2016 for Trump and Hillary Clinton. But with mail ballots, if there are enough left it could make a difference because the mail vote went overwhelmingly for Biden.

Glenn: And these mail ballots can still be counted so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and if they arrive by Nov. 12.

Harrison: That’s right. So we could have a trickle of votes coming in over the next week. And here’s another twist: The ground game isn’t over for the campaigns. Because some of these ballots are going to have flaws, like the witness signing in the wrong place. And that means that those ballots can still be “cured.” So we can have a situation where campaign volunteers are tracking down voters to fix minor issues with their ballots.

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