What Happens Next In The Still Too-Close-To-Call Race For Governor

Nov 10, 2016

Gov. Pat McCrory is behind after preliminary results, but could still win his re-election bid depending on the outcome of absentee and provisional ballots
Credit Catie Ball / WUNC

While Roy Cooper finished election night with more votes, the race for governor is far from over.

With all 2,704 North Carolina precincts reporting, Cooper held a 2,281,851 to 2,276,850 lead over Pat McCrory, a lead of just 5,001 votes or one-tenth of 1 percent.

Cooper declared victory, but there are still absentee and provisional ballots to be counted. In many elections, particularly statewide ones, these ballots are too few to affect the final outcome. Even if every single additional ballot were cast for the losing candidate, it would not affect the final outcome.

In this race, however, these votes could swing the election.

Even when those ballots are counted, however, the winner won't necessarily be definitively known. County boards of elections around the state will hold a canvass, which means they will officially verify the election results, and turn final numbers in to the state by the 10th day after the election, or Friday of next week.

Read: Cooper, McCrory Race Remains Locked In Undecided Battle

If the losing candidate falls less than 10,000 votes short of victory, something that appears likely based on preliminary results, he may call for a recount. That process could take more days and involve hand-to-eye counting of a random sampling of precincts around the state in order to provide a human double check of the machine count.

The following was distributed from the State Board of Elections to all 100 counties as a step by step process to complete the election:

  1. Absentee ballots: Mail-in absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Nov. 14.  Overseas and military absentee ballots are accepted through Nov. 17.
  2. Sample Audit: Every county conducts a sample hand-to-eye count of ballots in randomly selected precincts and one-stop locations to confirm results tabulated by machine. Counties must conduct their hand-to-eye counts in public.
  3. Provisional ballot meetings: Each county board of elections will meet before certifying the election to make decisions on provisional applications submitted by voters during early voting and on Election Day.  If the board determines that the voter is eligible, the provisional ballot is counted. Provisional ballots are cast when an individual’s registration information does not appear in the poll books or there are other questions about that person’s eligibility to vote.
  4. County canvass: County boards of elections will certify results at public meetings held at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18.  
  5. Recounts: For statewide contests this year, the vote difference must be 10,000 votes or less for a candidate to demand a recount after the county canvass. The demand for a recount must be in writing and received by the State Board of Elections no later than noon Tuesday, Nov. 22. If a recount is demanded, the State Board of Elections Office would issue a schedule, and the counties would conduct recounts individually during open meetings. For non-statewide contests, the difference between the candidates must be within 1 percent of the total votes cast in the ballot item.
  6. State canvass: The State Board of Elections will certify statewide results for all federal, statewide, multi-district and judicial contests at a public meeting held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29.  Results in each contest are not considered official until that date.