The North Carolina state elections board on Monday directed county election boards to dismiss any ballot protests that questioned a voter’s eligibility, effectively tossing most protests filed by Republicans.
The ruling is a blow to Gov. Pat McCrory, who has seized on a flurry of ballot protests filed by Republicans to decry widespread voter fraud as he refuses to concede to his Democratic challenger, state Attorney General Roy Cooper. McCrory is currently trailing Cooper by about 9,800 votes, according to the board of elections website, although ten counties still have not certified their vote totals.
In its Monday order, the state elections board distinguished between a protest and a challenge: A protest “must prove the occurrence of an outcome-determinative violation of election law, irregularity, or misconduct” and a challenge contests the eligibility of a voter. Republicans submitted dozens of protests alleging that ballots were cast by people who were dead, who were felons or who had voted elsewhere, but the order states those “protests” should be considered challenges. The deadline to submit such challenges was 25 days before Election Day.
The election board’s order directed counties to dismiss any challenges filed after the deadline unless they would change the outcome of a local election. Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the state elections board, told TPM that if the “protests” would not change the outcome of a local election, the county board should count those votes and then notify the state board of the number of “protests.” The state board would then aggregate the “protests” from county boards and determine whether there are enough to potentially change the outcome of the governor’s race, according to Gannon.
It does not appear that there were enough “protests” filed challenging a voter’s eligibility to swing the governor’s race in McCrory’s direction, but the state board of elections ruling still leaves open two complaints in Bladen and Durham counties before the race can be resolved.
The state board is investigating whether a group in Bladen County that received funding from the state Democratic Party improperly filled out absentee ballots.
The McCrory campaign also has asked for a recount of about 94,000 early vote ballots in Durham County, saying in a Saturday statement that if a recount there “provides the same results as earlier posted, the McCrory Committee will be prepared to withdraw its statewide recount request in the Governors race.”
The Durham County complaint centers on more than 90,000 early vote ballots. Election workers had to enter data manually late on Election Day due to machine issues. The county election board rejected the complaint, filed by Republican lawyer Thomas Stark, ruling that there was not enough evidence of “malfeasance” as Stark had charged. Stark then appealed to the state elections board over the weekend, claiming that there are a “number of anomalies” in Durham County and alleging that ballots were cast by people who were dead, who had already voted elsewhere or who were convicted felons. The state board is expected to meet Wednesday to consider that appeal.
In a Tuesday press conference, North Carolina Republican Party Chair Dallas Woodhouse indicated that the disputed election now may be resolved quickly.
“We have an opportunity to bring the 2016 election to a close within the next few days,” Woodhouse said, according to the News and Observer. “Durham County is going to recount its votes, or the entire state will if that is an option.”
He also dismissed potential for the Republican-led legislature to step in to select the winner in the governor’s race.
“That will never happen,” he said, per the News and Observer. “They would never award the election to somebody who didn’t have the most votes.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that election workers counted more than 90,000 ballots by hand late on election tonight. The election workers had to manually enter data from ballot tabulators’ paper tapes because they were unable to read data from memory cards. We regret the error.