Raleigh, N.C. — Democrat Roy Cooper expanded his lead over Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday as counties statewide counted absentee and provisional ballots from last week's elections.
Cooper had a lead of about 5,000 votes on Election Night, but that had stretched to about 6,600 by Friday evening, according to the State Board of Elections.
Counties were supposed to certify their vote totals on Friday, but elections officials concede that won't occur until next week because of a series of Republican challenges and a federal court order that the State Board of Elections and the Division of Motor Vehicles are trying to address.
The Durham Board of Elections announced Friday night that it has received four additional election protests. All four were filed by John Posthill, a voter registered in Durham County. The protests claim that ineligible voters cast ballots, that ballots that were improperly scanned and that absentee ballots were improperly cast.
Several hours earlier, the elections board voted unanimously after a two-hour hearing to dismiss a protest challenging the accuracy of manual vote counts that were submitted on Election Night because of technical problems with data cards from several voting machines.
"This is a loss for Durham voters because it's an effort to keep it in the dark of night and not have openness in your election. Why would you do that?" said Thomas Stark, who filed the complaint.
Stark, a Durham resident who is a lawyer for the North Carolina Republican Party, said the manual tabulations couldn't be trusted and that problems with data cards from several voting machines necessitated a recount.
"Rather than wonder about it, it seems appropriate to go ahead and count those votes," he said.
Testimony during the hearing showed there was no discrepancy in the vote totals in the gubernatorial race because of the manual count, and Kevin Hamilton, an attorney for Cooper's campaign, said the board's decision to dismiss the complaint was warranted.
"There wasn't any evidence ever presented of anything wrong. This was a minor glitch like you see on Election Day all over the country," Hamilton said.
The board's decision elicited cheers and applause from the crowded meeting room, where people had brought in anti-McCrory signs and warned the board not to disenfranchise black voters.
"The Durham Board of Elections needs to continue – we’re watching you – and you need to continue and do better at defending Durham votes and defending black votes," Thea Jackson said.
Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, echoed that sentiment.
"This is about our Constitution. It's about what's morally right. The same thing that the party is saying nationally they ought to be saying (here) – respect the election," Barber said.
Wake board voids three ballots
Meanwhile, the Wake County Board of Elections threw out three ballots Friday but ruled there was no probable cause to investigate 20 others.
The Wake County challenge was among those McCrory's campaign said were being filed in 50 counties alleging that convicted felons voted, other ballots were cast in the names of dead people and some voters cast multiple ballots.
The voided votes in Wake County belonged to two people who cast ballots during the early voting period and then died before Election Day and one person who was was convicted of a felony in October and voted before the Department of Public Safety notified elections officials that he was no longer eligible to vote. Most of the other voters challenged had the same names as people who had voted elsewhere, but the Wake County board ruled that the GOP hadn't proved that the same people were voting twice, saying they could merely be two people with the same name who had voted.
"I'm not convinced that this is, in fact, the same person. It may be, and nothing would preclude you from furthering your investigation to look into that if you want to appeal this," said Ellis Boyle, the Republican chairman of the Wake County board. "You may not agree with all of decisions that have been made, but the board takes it very seriously and does not reject a voter's ballot without good reason and doesn't accept a voter's ballot if they shouldn't vote. That's been our motivation."
The McCrory campaign also has alleged a voting fraud scheme involving mail-in absentee ballots, saying voters in a dozen counties – Bladen, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Guilford, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, Robeson, Vance, Wake and Warren counties – have filed protests and are seeking investigations that could invalidate ballots.
The State Board of Elections is investigating "irregularities" with Bladen County absentee ballots, where volunteers might have helped people fill out ballots without disclosing that they did so, which state law requires. None of the other county elections boards has referred a protest to the state for review.
Campaigns snipe over challenges
Cooper's campaign said challenges also were dismissed in Orange and Halifax counties, and they criticized McCrory for continuing to contest the race.
"This is a desperate attempt by a desperate politician who has lost a race," Cooper campaign spokesman Morgan Jackson said. "This is a Hail Mary hit, but there's no receiver in the end zone. He's just throwing the ball down the field and acting like there may be somebody able to catch it. ... He's dragging this process out in hopes of some magical thing happening, and it's just not."
McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said most counties haven't certified their results, and they plan to appeal the dismissed complaints to the State Board of Elections.
"The counting is not complete, and there is still no certified outcome," Diaz said in a statement. "Roy Cooper is making presumptuous statements based on piecemeal results from a handful of Democrat-leaning counties in order to deflect attention away from serious voter fraud concerns that are emerging across the state."
Jackson said the allegations of fraud are not just frivolous, they're undemocratic.
"They're undercutting sort of the electoral process, undermining the process and what voters' confidence is in the process, and that's unfortunate," he said. "The governor knows better. The state of North Carolina deserves better. It's time to concede. It's time to move on."
Meanwhile, the canvassing process was being held up in numerous counties because of a federal court order concerning voters whose registrations were handled improperly by the state DMV in recent years.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs last month said people whose registrations weren't turned over to elections officials in a timely manner by DMV should be allowed to cast provisional ballots, and those ballots would be counted unless DMV records showed that they had formally declined to register to vote or update their registrations through the agency. State Board of Elections officials told county elections staffers Wednesday to wait for a list of affected voters from DMV before counting those provisional ballots.
DMV spokesman Robert Broome said that the agency has responded to questions from the State Board of Elections about 8,200 voters since Wednesday. The agency hadn't created a master list earlier of voters who might be affected by the federal court order because the records needed to be checked individually, he said.
"We don't want to accidentally disenfranchise somebody," Broome said.
State elections director Kim Strach said late Friday that all questioned records have been researched, and state officials have to process the information and then send the results to the counties, which is expected to happen Saturday. It's still likely to take several days for counties to match up the information with provisional ballots, however.