Recount for N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice to start this week, just over 400 votes between candidates

The 2020 race for North Carolina Attorney General pits incumbent Democratic Supreme Court Chief...
The 2020 race for North Carolina Attorney General pits incumbent Democratic Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley against Republican challenger Paul Newby.(Campaign websites)
Updated: Nov. 17, 2020 at 1:10 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A statewide recount of more than five million ballots cast in North Carolina’s Supreme Court contest will start later this week, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections.

Democrat Cheri Beasley requested the recount in a letter to the State Board of Elections on Tuesday.

Beasley trails Republican Paul Newby by just over than 400 votes out of nearly 5.4 million cast in the race for the state’s highest court. That puts the race within the 10,000-vote threshold for the trailing candidate to demand a recount, according to election officials.

Chief Justice Beasley currently trails by 406 votes out of 5,391,560 votes cast.

According to state election officials, the recount likely will take several days in some counties, and county boards of elections must complete their recounts by Wednesday, November 25. This is North Carolina’s first statewide recount since the 2016 state auditor’s race, which confirmed the results in that contest.

“We cannot express enough gratitude for the hard work of our county boards of elections, who continue to ensure accurate and fair results in this election,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. “Recounts are an important part of the elections process that help guarantee voters' wishes are realized in the closest of contests.”

On Monday, the State Board of Elections issued guidance to the county boards of elections on the recount process.

County boards of elections may begin recounting ballots on Thursday or sooner if they meet the 48-hour public notice requirement.

All 100 county boards of elections will conduct recounts of their ballots by running them through tabulators. The counties are responsible for recount costs. Counties with recounts for local contests may conduct them at the same time.

Candidates, the media and the general public will be permitted to attend the recount meetings, subject to space limitations and social distancing requirements.

However, use of video or still cameras by the public inside the recount room while the recount is in progress is not permitted because of the statutory prohibition on photographing or videotaping individual ballots.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina is the state’s highest court. It is made up of the Chief Justice, who also serves as head of the Judicial Branch, and six associate justices. Each justice serves an eight-year term.

The Supreme Court has no jury and makes no determinations of fact, but it considers whether error occurred at trial or in judicial interpretation of the law.

Beasley released this statement:

“The race for Chief Justice will not be over until every single vote has been counted. Our team has officially requested a statewide recount and will be filing protest petitions across the state to ensure over 2,000 absentee and provisional ballots that were wrongfully rejected are included in the final tally. This race is far from decided, and we look forward to ensuring the counting process continues so that every voice is heard.”

Here’s some information about each candidate.

WBTV has created Virtual Candidate Cards to get you up to speed on the people running for...
WBTV has created Virtual Candidate Cards to get you up to speed on the people running for office in important statewide races in the Carolinas.(WBTV)

Cheri Beasley joined the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2012 and has been chief justice since 2019.

She served as an associate judge on North Carolina Court of Appeals from 2008-2012, and served as district court judge in North Carolina’s 12th Judicial District from 1999-2008.

Beasley has held leadership roles in the American Bar Association and the North Carolina Bar Association.

She earned law degrees from University of Tennessee College of Law and Duke University School of Law.

According to her campaign website, she lists priorities including using technology to modernize the court system, increasing access to recovery courts, building school justice partnerships. She also launched the Faith and Justice Alliance.

WBTV has created Virtual Candidate Cards to get you up to speed on the people running for...
WBTV has created Virtual Candidate Cards to get you up to speed on the people running for office in important statewide races in the Carolinas.(WBTV)

Paul Newby has been serving on the North Carolina Supreme Court since 2004.

He served 19 years as an Assistant United States Attorney in Raleigh.

Newby is currently an adjunct professor at Campbell University School of Law.

Newby earned a law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law and actively participates in the North Carolina Bar Association.

According to his campaign website, Newby describes his judicial philosophy as believing in judicial restraint and supporting enforcement of the Constitution as enacted by the people, of statutes as intended by the General Assembly and of contracts as agreed to by the parties.

Only the Supreme Court contest is eligible for a statewide recount, so no other statewide contests will be recounted.

As county boards of elections complete their recounts, results will be posted here:

Dozens of counties have begun their recounts. The State Board of Elections offers the following five facts about the recount process in North Carolina:

  • Recounts are a time-intensive, labor-intensive process. While some counties, such as Beaufort County, expect to complete their recounts in one day, larger counties with more ballots to count, such as Wake County, may take five or six days. In the 2020 general election, nearly 5.4 million voters cast ballots in the Supreme Court race, all on paper ballots. All 100 counties will use bipartisan teams to put every ballot through a tabulator, counting that contest only.

Several counties, including Guilford and Mecklenburg, are conducting paper ballot recounts for the first time, after recently switching voting systems. County boards of elections must arrange for two-person, bipartisan counting teams for each tabulator used in the recount. This ensures that both candidates’ political parties are represented at every step.

For county-by-county recount schedules, go here:

  • Small variances are expected between the canvassed results and the recount results. In a 2016 statewide recount in the state auditor’s race, Chuck Stuber trailed Beth Wood by about 6,000 votes before the recount. After the recount, Wood won by about 6,050 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast in that election.

Because ballots are scanned again through the tabulator, which may be a different tabulator, partial or stray marks on the ballot may be counted differently the second time. This may result in counts that are marginally different from the initial count, by roughly a couple votes per 100,000 ballots cast.

Some counties are using high-speed tabulators to expedite their recounts, which also may result in slight variances from the results from the smaller precinct tabulators that first counted the ballots.

  • The 100 counties bear the cost of the recount. Pursuant to state law, the county boards of elections across North Carolina pay the bills for the recount. Costs will vary by the county’s size and the number of ballots to be recounted. In Greene County, with fewer than 9,000 ballots to recount, labor costs will be $400 to $600. The cost for Wake County, which has about 635,000 ballots to recount, will be an estimated $110,000. More than 100 people will work on Wake’s recount.
  • What are the possible next steps for the candidates? State law provides that if the initial recount is not hand-to-eye, which this is not, and does not reverse the results, that Beasley may demand a hand-to-eye recount in a sample of precincts. If the recount reversed the results, Newby would have the same right to ask for a hand-to-eye recount in a sample of precincts. The sample would be all ballots in 3 percent of the precincts and early voting sites in that county, chosen at random.

If results of the hand-to-eye recount differ from the previous results within those precincts to the extent that extrapolating the amount of the change to the entire jurisdiction (based on the proportion of ballots recounted to the total votes cast for that office) would result in the reversing of the results, then the State Board of Elections would order a hand-to-eye recount of all ballots statewide. The counties would bear the costs.

  • Recount results are official results. The results of the recount will be considered the official results for the Supreme Court Chief Justice contest.

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