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2020 election results: We’ll know soon

David Donovan//November 5, 2020

2020 election results: We’ll know soon

David Donovan//November 5, 2020

North Carolina voters have spoken, although in some races it will still be a few more days until we find out what exactly they’ve said.

By the end of the night on Nov. 3, the state’s board of elections had counted all votes from in-person early voting and Election Day voting, and all mail-in ballots that were received by Nov. 2. But provisional ballots remain to be counted, and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the state to count any mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Nov. 3 and are received by Nov. 12.

As such, some races remain too close to call, and election officials have said that they don’t expect to update vote counts any more until all mail-in ballots have been received.

The closest statewide race at the moment is the one for chief justice of the Supreme Court, where the most updated count has Justice Paul Newby leading Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by just 3,742 votes out of a record 5,337,804 total votes cast, a margin of less than one-tenth of a percent.

According to information posted by Gerry Cohen, a member of the Wake County Board of Elections, there were at least 18,596 mail-in absentee ballots accepted on Nov. 3 and at least another 4,035 on Nov. 4. Beasley received 68.1 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots that were counted on Election Day—but it’s not at all clear whether ballots received after Election Day would break down along similar lines.

The number of provisional ballots that will ultimately be counted, meanwhile, is not yet knowable. But for context, in 2016 there were 26,854 provisional ballots that were ultimately approved, and this year’s number could easily end up being higher than that.

As such, the contest to determine the state’s next chief justice remains much too close to call. And even once all of the votes are counted, that race could potentially be headed for a recount.

Three’s a trend

If Newby does end up with the most votes, it will almost certainly mean that Republican candidates will complete a clean sweep of the state’s statewide judicial races. In the race to fill the seat currently held by Newby, Court of Appeals Judge Phil Berger Jr. leads Judge Lucy Inman by 1.4 percent, and Justice Mark Davis was trailing former state Senator Tamara Barringer by a slightly larger margin in his re-election campaign.

In the four races for seats on the state’s Court of Appeals, the four Republican candidates led their respective races by uncannily similar margins of around three points.

That sameness exemplified two dynamics that were immediately clear even as the candidates await the final results: the electorate was very narrowly divided, and voters appear to be doing very little ticket-splitting in partisan races. In judicial races in particular, voters appear to be favoring one party or the other up and down the ballot.

Of 20 statewide races on the ballot—two federal races, 10 Council of State races, and eight statewide judicial races—there’s only one race, for the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, where a candidate has received more than 52.6 percent of the vote count so far. And while the yet-to-be-counted votes will change the exact margins in each race, they’re unlikely to do much to change the spreads in support between two different candidates of the same party.

In North Carolina, Court of Appeals races have been partisan elections since 2016, and with three elections in the books, nearly, the trend is clear: In 2016, Republicans won all five Court of Appeals races; in the 2018 midterm election, Democrats won all three Court of Appeals races; and in 2020 it appears that Republicans are likely to win all four races. (Supreme Court races became partisan in 2018.)

Same as the old boss

In the executive and legislative branches, it appears that not much will change in 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper was re-elected to a second term by a wide enough margin that the Associate Press called the race for Cooper on election night. Republicans meanwhile, retained both houses of the state’s legislature, even with a few races still too close to call, although they don’t appear to have regained a veto-proof supermajority in either chamber.

That means that Republicans will control both chambers next year as they redraw the boundaries for legislative districts during redistricting.

In the Attorney General’s race, the most updated count has incumbent Josh Stein ahead of challenger Jim O’Neill by a little more than 10,000 votes. That’s an important threshold because under North Carolina law, a candidate for statewide office has the right to demand a recount if the margin is less than 10,000 votes.

As in the chief justice’s race, mail-in absentee ballots have so far heavily favored Stein, the Democrat, but it remains to be seen whether that will be true of the ballots left to count. If Stein does ultimately prevail, it will likely mean that each of the 10 Council of State positions will continue to be held by the party that holds it now.

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan


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