State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley lost her reelection bid to Justice Paul Newby by 406 votes (as of November 19). Not conceding defeat yet, Beasley has requested a recount, as allowed by state law.
Some counties have completed their recounts and voters can follow the progress on the official state electionwebsite.
It is extremely rare for a recount, even in a very close race to change an initial election outcome. According to the Associated Press, there have been 31 recounts in statewide elections in the United States since 2000, and only three of them have changed the outcome of an election.
The partial recount results so far have had minimal effect on Newby’s lead.
Knowing the recount will not likely result in a victory, Beasley is seeking new votes to count in hopes of securing victory. She has filed protests in 90 counties to get changes in their vote tallies in an attempt to overturn the result. Specifically, Beasley has asked the Democrat local boards of elections to reconsider already rejected absentee and provisional ballots.
But the chief justice’s protests are turning out to be highly problematic and controversial. WRAL found the complaints filled with errors:
The 76-page affidavit accompanying the protest listed the ballots in question, but it wasn’t difficult to find problems with it in our look at just a handful of ballots listed in Wake County.”
The complaint lists several voters as having their ballot rejected who did if fact have their votes recorded, including Garner resident Starr Goins, who was surprised to find out her name was submitted in a complaint.
“I did not know that. To find that out was very disheartening and frustrated,’ Goins said Wednesday. ‘I had a conversation with my children, you know, being that I am an African-American woman and how hard we had to fight to vote.”
But Goins’s ballot, and two others WRAL News found listed in the affidavit as rejected were actually counted, according to Wake County elections director Gary Sims.
“WRAL News cross-checked the addresses of six other “Wake County” voters listed in the affidavit with county property tax records. All six actually live at addresses outside Wake County, making them ineligible to vote in Wake County.
Even worse, the News and Observer found a shocking effort by the chief justice to steamroll the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Beasley is attempting to only have the rejected ballots of registered Democrats reconsidered and not Republicans (pay wall):
“Across the more than 3,200 voter names Beasley’s campaign provided to election officials in almost every county in North Carolina, only a handful belonged to registered Republicans.”
The N&O further noted an “analysis that matched more than 2,800 names on the campaign’s list with public election data shows that about 70% identify as Democrats. Another 800 are unaffiliated. Only nine voters matched from Beasley’s list were members of the GOP – less than 1% of the total.”
So far, several counties including Wake, Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Cumberland have rejected Beasley’s efforts. Guilford, New Hanover and Lee Counties have set evidentiary hearings on the protests. Are these protests appropriate? Or is Chief Justice Beasley attempting to “Cheri-pick” voters to “Cheri-mander” an election victory she did not earn?
Civitas turned to former North Carolina State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement member John Lewis for his insights on this matter:
Civitas: The Beasley campaign has filed complaints in 90 counties protesting the rejection of some absentee and provisional ballots. The reasons for rejections vary from voters not being registered, to ballots not being signed. In total the Beasley campaign is fighting to restore about 3,000 previously rejected ballots. Data research shows that Republican voters were sorted out of these lists. Out of the 3,000 voters the Beasley campaign is attempting to restore, only about ten are Republicans. Furthermore, it appears once Republicans were removed from the list of potential voters, the Beasley campaign tried to hide their actions by removing the partisan data identifying the voters from the complaint. How concerning are these two factors?
Mr. Lewis: These factors concern me, but not for the reason that many would suspect. I do not find it surprising that a political campaign in a partisan election would file a protest seeking to only have ballots that statistically would favor their candidate to be counted. What concerns me is that the campaign thought that this effort could be successful. Hand-picked partisan ballots being reviewed before a handpicked partisan elections board(s) is certainly contrary to the notion of free, open and fair elections. The litigation that invalidated the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement centered around the right of the governor, and his political party, to have control over elections boards. The nature of the protest filed by the Beasley campaign was an attempt to exploit that control and gain political advantage. It would appear that for the present time, many of the local boards stood by their previous decisions, and thereby preserved the integrity of the elections process, at least for the present time.
Civitas: The rejected provisional and absentee ballots at issue were already reviewed by professional staff at the local boards of elections, and by the local boards of elections themselves. Would it not be highly unusual or suspicious if the Democrat controlled local boards changed course and now voted to included large numbers of Democratic leaning ballots that were previously ruled not to be legal?
Mr. Lewis: I believe that it would be very unusual for the local boards to reverse themselves. These ballots have been reviewed at least twice, and the local boards have already rejected them as being not legitimately cast ballots. Of course, it is possible that the local boards could adopt a new or different statutory interpretation that would allow them to reverse their own decisions; however, it will be very difficult for them to do this. Now, more than ever, people are keeping a close watch on the manner in which our elections are being conducted. A decision to accept previously rejected ballots by a partisan controlled elections board will undermine the public confidence in our elections even more than perceived or actual foreign interference.
Civitas: If Democrats on the local boards of elections reject Mrs. Beasley’s claims, can she appeal? To who? When will we have a winner?
Mr. Lewis. If the Democrat controlled county boards of election reject Chief Justice Beasley’s claims, she will have a very short period of time to determine whether or not she desires to appeal the decision(s) to the State Board of Elections. The timing of the appeal will be triggered by the filing of the written order by the local boards. Written notices of appeal must be delivered to the local boards within 24 hours after the filing of the written order, and must be mailed to or received by the State Board of Elections by the fifth day following the filing of the written order by the local board(s). From the State Board of Elections, an appeal would fall to the Superior Court for Wake County, and ultimately to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court.
When will we have a winner? That will all depend on how far the party who loses before the various boards of elections presses the issue, how quickly the case moves through the appellate courts, and how much money is available to continue the challenges.
Civitas: Give us your final thoughts on this closely contested election?
Mr. Lewis As our nation and state become increasing divided based upon political ideologies, any actual or perceived partisan meddling in the elections process, particularly in the review and counting of votes, will do nothing but undermine and delegitimize elections and the officials who are elected. No election will be perfect. For this reason, there are checks and balances through the protest process and the appellate review afforded to the non-prevailing party. Protests are appropriate where they seek to correct error, not when they seek to interject partisan politics on the electoral process.