Recount likely in tight race for NC Supreme Court chief justice

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As counties finalized their vote counts across the state Friday, apparent winners were determined in races that had been too close to call while a recount was possible in a key statewide race. 

The race for Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Paul Newby has had the closest margin of all statewide races.

As additional votes got added to the total Friday, the two were separated by just five votes at one point out of more than 5.3 million cast in that race. 

Newby filed protests in eight counties over the handling of mail-in ballots. Those include: Duplin, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Robeson, Scotland and Wake counties. 

Among the issues he highlighted in those protests: counting mail-in ballots that arrived after Nov. 6, which is the deadline under state law.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ballots that arrived by Nov. 12 would count as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

That change was part of a legal settlement entered into by the State Board of Elections.  

“They’ve gone up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, I find it ironic that a judicial candidate would is asking us to ignore the opinions of all the courts,” said Greg Flynn, chair of the Wake County Board of Elections. 

In the Wake County protest, Newby also said the board approved mail-in ballots received after Nov. 3 without a postmark.  

In response to Newby’s protest, attorney John Burns, who represented Beasley, wrote, 

“The protest cites no evidence to support this allegation. But more problematically, the protest once again misstates the applicable law governing the 2020 election.” 

In addition, Newby said the board approved 86 mail-in ballots in which the envelopes had deficiencies such as issues with the witness signature. 

Burns wrote in response, “But significantly, the protest fails to provide any evidence to support this allegation. The protest does not identify the name of a single voter who submitted a deficient ABM ballot that the county board approved. The protest does not attach any deficient container return envelopes that it claims was accepted by the county board.” 

Keith Weatherly, one of the two Republican members of the five-member board, said, “I don’t think that this should be dismissed out of hand. These are issues that we’ve expressed some concerns about during our review of these absentee ballots.” 

Board member Gerry Cohen said he did not think the protest established probable cause to move forward with a hearing and noted the protest could eventually end up before the State Board of Elections.  

The board dismissed the complaint in a 3-2 vote. 

With how close the race remained Friday, leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties prepared for a potential recount. In that race, the margin between the candidates would have to be less than 10,000 votes, which it consistently has been since the night of the election.  

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