The gubernatorial race that would not die: A primer

More than three weeks after election day, the N.C. gubernatorial race is still not officially over.

Like a great, lumbering beast full of spears it just trudges painfully on, refusing to fall.

The whole thing got a bit more complicated this week, so even if you’ve been paying fairly close attention you might be confused about a few of the many moving pieces.

We understand and are here to help. Here are a few questions I’ve gotten from readers this week.

Cooper won, right?

Well, yes and no.

On election night, Attorney General and Democratic challenger Roy Cooper finished about 5,000 votes ahead of sitting Governor Pat McCrory. That’s a slim margin in a statewide race wherein almost 7 million votes were cast.

Though Cooper declared victory on election night, McCrory refused to concede. Provisional and absentee ballots still had to be counted, the governor said. But as those were slowly tallied across the state, Cooper’s margin just kept growing.

Any margin less than 10,000 votes and a recount can be requested. McCrory made that request last week, as Cooper inched closer to to 10,000. On Wednesday, his total tally went above 10,000.

So that’s it then, right? Cooper wins, McCrory loses…right?

Not so fast.

Nothing’s finished until the results are finalized.

As Cooper’s lead was growing over the last few weeks, McCrory’s campaign and the N.C. GOP began assailing the results themselves. They challenged voters – making accusations (many of them erroneous) of felons and dead people voting, alleging voting irregularities and improper handling of the election. Those challenges and protests had to be dealt with before the results could be finalized.

There’s a bit of an irony there. McCrory’s office appoints members of the N.C. State Board of Elections and the 100 county boards of election. All of those boards have Republican majorities. So, in challenging the conduct of the election McCrory’s campaign was essentially saying that its own party, and its hand-picked elections board members, were either corrupt or incompetent.

Further, in challenging the results McCrory’s campaign was making the argument that there was pervasive fraud and large scale irregularities in a statewide election that elected a Republican president, led to victories for GOP congressional candidates and re-elected most sitting Republicans in the N.C. House and Senate. The mismanaged, fraud-laden statewide elections that McCrory’s campaign described in challenges in 52 of 100 counties appeared not to have impacted most other Republicans.

As you might imagine, county boards of election all over the state rejected McCrory’s challenges. The governor turned to the N.C. Board of Elections to take over authority and investigate his claims – but they declined, in all but two cases.

So… there was voter fraud in those two counties?

In Bladen County, it’s alleged a handful of people may have signed and filled out roughly 150 absentee ballots. That’s not enough to make much of a difference to a 10,000 margin and they seem to have mostly benefitted a candidate running a write-in campaign for a non-partisan soil and water district supervisor seat. And that guy lost. The state board of elections is looking into it.

In Durham County, it was a bit more complicated. In a party-line vote, the N.C. Board of Elections voted 3-2 Wednesday to recount more than 90,000 votes cast in Durham because of what appears to have been a technical problem reporting the results on election night.

The Bladen County and Durham County results should be finalized next week.

Okay. So…then it’ll be over, right?

Here’s hoping.

But there’s still a federal lawsuit, brought by the conservative Civitas Institute (with ties to the McCrory administration) over same-day registration in the election. The preliminary hearing in that case is set for Dec. 8, one day before the deadline for finalizing the election results.

And some people are still worried that McCrory’s gameplan is to cast enough doubt on the election, in various ways, that the Republican-dominated North Carolina General Assembly will end up deciding the race.

That’s an outcome legislative leaders have said is unlikely and they’d like to avoid – but they say they haven’t ruled it out.

Earlier this week, N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse told News & Observer reporter Colin Campbell that wouldn’t happen.

“Woodhouse also rejected speculation that the state legislature might intervene and use its power to decide the governor’s race. ‘That will never happen,’ he said, adding that suggestions to the contrary are ‘demagoguery at the highest order.'”

You can bet some people are going to remind him he said that, should he need it.


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The gubernatorial race that would not die: A primer