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Recount In NC Chief Justice Race Begins As Candidates Challenge Some Votes

Cheri Beasley and Paul Newby
Cheri Beasley and Paul Newby are running for Chief Justice in North Carolina.

This article is made possible through a partnership between WFAE and Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of our republishing policy.

North Carolina will have a recount this election in the race for Supreme Court Chief Justice. Only a few hundred votes separate the two candidates. It will take county election boards until Nov. 25 to finish the recount.

The race between incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Republican challenger Paul Newby, currently a senior associate justice on the Court, has been close since Election Day. Then, Newby held a small lead of about 4,000 votes in a statewide election of more than 5 million votes. Newby and Beasley traded that lead as different counties reported their absentee ballots and certified their results.

By Tuesday, Newby led by 409 votes.

Beasley’s campaign then requested a recount. Under state law, candidates in statewide races can ask for a recount if the margin is within half a percentage point or fewer than 10,000 votes. That recount starts on Friday. Michael Dickerson is elections director for the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections.

"The process is literally running all of the ballots back through the tabulator," Dickerson said. "Everybody’s paper ballot or express vote ballot, we have to run those back through tabulators. And the goal is to get the same number you produced on election night for your results."

Dickerson said after that process is complete, elections staff in all 100 counties will present results to their local election boards, and then send the results to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

For Mecklenburg County, which had more than 550,000 votes in the Chief Justice race, Dickerson expects it will take four to five days to tabulate all the votes again. Smaller counties might take only one or two days, depending on staffing and how many votes were cast.

In an election where the majority of people cast their votes by mail or early in-person, North Carolina counties had weeks to enter votes into their tabulators, even if the machines didn’t produce a result until election night. Now, they need to process all of the votes again in a few days’ time. Dickerson said recounts are important, but historically they rarely change the result.

"We’ve done many of these throughout my tenure here at the Board of Elections. And I never recall having any race that was actually flipped," Dickerson said. "Handful of votes, maybe, you can understand that. And, you never know."

The North Carolina State Board of Elections said all counties must complete their recount by Nov. 25. But the state board previously set Nov. 24 for its state-wide canvass, where it will certify the state’s election results.

The board said it could certify all other races aside from the Chief Justice race that day, and then return to certify it later.

But this race could also be complicated by protests that both candidates have filed. Newby has challenged the acceptance of some absentee ballots by multiple election boards, including in Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties. Meanwhile, Beasley challenged some absentee ballots in Mecklenburg County, saying they should have been accepted but were not.

Those boards have preliminary hearings for those protests, and the protests could continue into next week if board members vote to investigate their claims. Any protest could be appealed to the State Board of Elections, delaying certification of this extremely close race even longer.

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