Commentary, Defending Democracy

As NC counties continue counting every vote, we make sure every vote counts

The late voting rights champion Rep. John Lewis wrote in the days leading up to his death, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.”

For North Carolina election officials in all 100 counties, the culminating act of 2020 takes place during Friday’s little-known (and often-misspelled) “Day of Canvass,” at which local boards of elections take a final count of all properly cast ballots to certify election results for their county.

For those who’ve spent the last week criticizing these same election officials and questioning why our process takes so long when the U.S. Presidential race is over, the answer is simple: 

This is the way it works.

It’s not just that the U.S. Supreme Court doubled down on giving North Carolina until Nov. 12 to count absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3. By law, in every presidential election, all 100 N.C. counties certify election results a full 10 days after Election Day, including outstanding military or overseas, statewide absentee, and provisional ballots.

In 2020, all eyes could be on these typically unceremonious county canvass meetings, including final counts of potentially over 100,000 outstanding absentee and provisional ballots. While only some of these ballots will ultimately be eligible for the tally, even a majority of these remaining votes could decide everything from important local and legislative races, to the balance of state supreme court, to which presidential candidate ultimately receives North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes and where our state stands in an ever-evolving electoral map.

After a week of counting ballots and pre-canvass county board of elections meetings, Friday the 13th’s Day of Canvass is where that all happens, ahead of the state board’s own canvass meeting later this month.

But it’s far from the only act of democracy happening this week.

For the hundreds of volunteer canvass monitors recruited, trained, and deployed to these meetings by organizations like Democracy North Carolina, the truly democratic act isn’t simply to make sure counties count votes, but that every eligible vote is counted. At week’s end, these volunteers will be attending canvass in most N.C. counties — many after learning of the process for the first time — to observe these events, document all that happens, help restore trust in the process, and assist voters along the way.

These volunteers will come from all walks of life, all parts of the state, all organizational affiliations, to do the unglamorous and oft-ignored post-election work of turning historic turnout into honest elections.

Together, these post-election vote protectors will join the thousands that stood at polls to assist voters during the 2020 cycle, as well as the tens of thousands of N.C. poll workers and election staffers who hosted this historic election and have been tirelessly curing and counting hard-fought votes ever since.

In his posthumous essay, Rep. Lewis closed by asking us all to “stand up for what you truly believe.”

For those leading and participating in this week’s final vote counts, that means finishing the job we started.

For that, we should all be grateful.

To learn more about the “Day of Canvass” and the role of a canvass monitor, visit

Sailor Jones is campaigns director at Democracy North Carolina (

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