Thousands of NC ballots still to be counted

Posted November 9, 2012 4:46 p.m. EST
Updated November 10, 2012 7:37 a.m. EST

— Think the elections were over on Tuesday? Think again.

Elections officials statewide are processing more than 73,000 votes that haven't yet been counted, and these extra ballots could determine who wins two close races.

Republican Dan Forest leads Democrat Linda Coleman by fewer than 11,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast statewide for lieutenant governor. The race for the 7th Congressional District is even closer, with only 411 votes between incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre and Republican David Rouzer.

"I would believe that the margin of victory will narrow as we do our work," Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said Friday.

Most of the uncounted votes are provisional ballots, which are given to voters who aren't in the records at the polls. Sometimes, they show up at the wrong precinct. Other times, it's a clerical error. Some voters aren't even eligible.

Provisional ballots aren't counted until after Election Day, giving officials time to verify whether they're legitimate. Mail-in absentee ballots also are counted late.

Bartlett says provisional and mail-in votes usually mirror regular votes, but when a race is tight, the slightest deviation could change the winner. There were more than 10,000 provision ballots in the 7th Congressional District alone, he said.

"It's very important that everyone understand (that) 'unofficial' really means unofficial, because there are a lot of ballots out there that still do need to be counted," Wake County elections director Cherie Poucher said. "We want to guarantee that every eligible vote is counted."

About 4,400 provisional ballots and at least 2,000 mail-in ballots still need to be counted in Wake County, as do several hundred email ballots from military and overseas voters.

"The other (thing) we would still be waiting for would be the military and overseas by mail. They have until next Thursday, right before canvass," Poucher said.

County elections officials are required to have their official totals, or canvass, completed by next Friday.

Based on historical patterns, Bartlett said he expects about 25 percent of the mail-in ballots that were requested won’t be returned and about half of the provisional ballots won’t be verified. That still leaves between 31,000 and 35,000 valid ballots to be counted by the end of next week.

Candidates have until Nov. 20 to ask for a recount if the final counts are within 1 percent of the total number of votes cast in that race. The election results won't be certified by the state till the end of the month.