Counties recounting more than 5 million votes in close race for NC chief justice

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – County election officials are recounting more than 5 million votes in the race for Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, one of the closest statewide races longtime election observers can recall. 

Justice Paul Newby (R) leads current Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) by just 409 votes, which is within the margin for Beasley to request a recount

That process began in Wake County Thursday and could continue into next week, said Gary Sims, director of elections for the county. 

“We expect that the lead that Justice Newby has will hold up in the recount,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley. “Certainly as narrow as any race I’ve ever worked on. But, at the same time, we would expect that to hold up on the recount.” 

Meredith College political analyst David McLennan said while it’s possible a recount could alter the outcome, it’s very unlikely. 

“We just don’t have a lot of history in North Carolina to suggest that after the final canvass you see that much change,” he said. 

In 2016, there was a recount in the race for state auditor. Going into that recount, the candidates were separated by about 6,000 votes. After the recount, it was determined Democrat Beth Wood won by 6,042 votes.  

McLennan noted the recent recount in the presidential race in Georgia, during which election officials in Floyd County discovered about 2,600 votes that had not been counted, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

McLennan also said something like that occurring in North Carolina’s recount is unlikely. 

On Thursday, the state Board of Elections said it had completed its post-election audits and discovered no significant issues. 

“Of the 200 voting groups audited, only 13 audits found any difference between the machine count and the human count, and all discrepancies were three votes or fewer. Most differences were attributed to human error, such as a voter marking outside of the bubble, or to human error during the hand count itself,” the agency noted in a news release. 

Over the last several days, both campaigns filed protests in counties across the state regarding decisions about including or excluding ballots from the vote total. 

Beasley’s campaign is seeking to have about 2,000 mail-in and provisional ballots included that they said were not counted.  

However, among 40 votes cited in Wake County, records show 19 of those votes did indeed count.  

“But, when you have a ticking clock and there’s a potential question someone may have been disenfranchised or someone inadvertently had their ballot not counted, we want to make sure that every step is taken,” said Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin.  

He added, “With a race this close, I mean just a few hundred votes in a statewide race, anything can happen with a recount.” 

Sister station Fox 46 in Charlotte reported that the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections rejected Beasley’s protest Thursday in a unanimous decision. Several county election boards, including in Wake County, rejected Newby’s protests filed last week.

The costs of the recount will be covered by the 100 county boards of elections. Costs vary by the county’s size and the number of ballots that need to be recounted, the State Board of Elections said.

For example, in Greene County, fewer than 9,000 ballots need to be recounted. Labor costs will be between $400 and $600. In Wake County, with 635,000 ballots to recount, it is estimated that it will cost $110,000 with more than 100 people working it.

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