Final ballots could swing several legislative races

Posted November 15, 2018 7:25 p.m. EST

— Elections officials statewide spent Thursday going through provisional ballots and absentee ballots that came in after Election Day as counties prepare to certify election results on Friday.

Unlike Florida, which is conducting a hand recount in a U.S. Senate race as lawsuits and court orders keep rolling in over election results, the process is pretty orderly in North Carolina. County elections officials have 10 days to double-check results and research provisional votes and same-day registrations. There are also thousands of military and overseas ballots that were legally mailed on Election Day but didn't arrive back at a local elections office for several days.

The Wake County Board of Elections had to go through about 5,700 provisional ballots. Staff spent days investigating them to determine if the people who cast them were eligible to vote before sorting them into bins for recommended approval, partial approval or denial. About two-thirds are expected to be completely or partially counted.

Wake County elections officials also counted about 3,000 absentee ballots that came in since Election Day.

Gerry Cohen, who served as the top attorney at the legislature for years and wrote a lot of the state's election laws, said those extra votes don't usually change the outcome of a race.

"There's only two elections that I know of since provisional ballots started in 2004 that's actually made a difference, as far as I know," Cohen said.

The most infamous was the state superintendent of public instruction race in 2004, which ended up being decided by the legislature because of vote-counting irregularities.

Still, this has been a year of close races. Six legislative seats, the most in recent memory, are within the 1 percent margin for a recount:

  • Democrat Harper Peterson leads Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, by 36 votes in Senate District 9. New Hanover County elections officials said they have 1,200 provisional ballots and 600 absentee ballots that arrived after 5 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Democrat Kirk deViere leads Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, by 306 votes in Senate District 19.
  • Democrat Michael Garrett leads Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, by 763 votes in Senate District 27.
  • Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, leads Democrat Erica McAdoo by 295 votes in House District 63.
  • Democrat Christy Clark leads Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, by 333 votes in House District 98.
  • Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, leads Democrat Rachel Hunt by 52 votes in House District 103.

In Wake County, two races are just outside the recount margin:

Democrat Julie von Haefen leads Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, by 687 votes in House District 36.

Democrat Sydney Batch leads Rep. John Adcock, R-Wake, by 785 votes in House District 37.

Cohen said the closer races are likely a result of Democrats spending heavily in swing districts this year. He also noted that provisional ballots traditionally lean Democrat while mail-in ballots lean Republican, but that trend may not hold this year.

"Four years ago, absentee ballots, in terms of voter registration, they were 15 percent more Republican than Democrats. This year, statewide, they were 10 percent more Democrats than Republicans," Cohen said. "So, we’ve seen a big shift in people voting by mail this year."