Recount, protest hearings get underway in NC Chief Justice race

UPDATE: Brunswick County adds Sunday and Monday recount times to schedule
Ballots across North Carolina are getting a second pass through tabulators
Updated: Nov. 20, 2020 at 6:03 PM EST
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NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - A statewide recount in the race for the top seat on North Carolina’s highest court got underway Thursday.

The race between Incumbent Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Justice Paul Newby for the Chief Justice seat is within around 400 votes, putting it well-within the margin for a statewide recount.

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said this is the first statewide recount since 2016, but the process is clearly defined by statute, even if voters may be unfamiliar with it.

“I don’t think people realized until perhaps this election year of how much goes on to make an election final after election night,” she said.

All 100 counties will participate in the machine recount — feeding all ballots cast into tabulators and high-speed scanners, if they have access to one.

The recount is supposed to be complete by Wednesday, Nov. 25, and some counties are planning to work through the weekend in order to complete it in time. Bladen County Elections Director Chris Williams says workers there will begin the recount at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, in both the Chief Justice race and in the race for the third county-wide seat on the Board of Commissioners. Incumbent commissioner David Gooden requested the recount after falling short to fellow incumbent G. Michael Cogdell by ten votes for the third available commissioner seat.

“We at least have a schedule to go through Saturday,” said Brunswick County director Sara Knotts, “but I anticipate it may be longer than that. Just depending on how quickly we can get things going.”

Brunswick County Board of Elections updated the schedule Friday to include Sunday and Monday recount times.

Knotts said she hopes they will get access to one of the state’s high-speed scanners currently in use in Onslow County to speed things up.

At the same time counties are going back through all of the ballots, county elections boards are also considering elections protests filed by the Beasley campaign.

The protests allege some absentee and provisional ballots that were rejected should have been accepted and counted.

New Hanover County’s board voted 3-2 to hold an evidentiary hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 25, with documents due by the end of the day Monday. Brunswick County’s board voted 3-2 to hold an hearing on the protest on Dec. 3. Pender County dismissed the protest and Bladen County will consider the issue Saturday.

Roughly 2,000 ballots are questioned by the protests, but recounts, Brinson Bell said, generally affect far fewer votes.

“What we’re thinking, or what we what we perceive will happen is a very, very little difference on the machines,” she said, explaining the audits the state does show the initial results are quite accurate.

What recounts typically identify, she said, are isolated issues where a voter may have used a different mark rather than filling in an oval, or the ballot had a residue that caused the machine to mis-read it the first time.

The recount and the razor-thin margin does show how competitive this year’s election was, and why every ballot is important.

“We talk about that all the time...the need for voters to go out, cast their ballot, exercise their right to vote and, how important that is, but when you see something like this be so close, it really is a testament to you know, every vote does matter,” she said.

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