Almost two weeks after the election, North Carolinians still don't know who their next governor will be. And with each passing day, the situation is growing more — not less — convoluted and heated.
The Democratic challenger to Gov. Pat McCrory (R) claimed victory on election night with a 4,000-vote lead out of 4.2 million votes cast. As provisional and absentee ballots have been counted, the lead of Roy Cooper (D), currently the state’s attorney general, has grown to at least 6,600 votes (his campaign says it’s more like 8,900 votes).
But McCrory, at risk of becoming the first North Carolina governor to lose reelection, isn't going down without a fight. On Tuesday, he officially asked for a recount, on top of the dozens of other challenges his campaign has filed to vote results across the state, challenges that have yet to present any evidence of the kind of wide-scale voter fraud that would swing the election by thousands of votes back to him.
Cooper's camp immediately bashed the idea. "This is nothing but a last-ditch effort from Governor McCrory to delay and deny the results of this election," his campaign said in a statement. "We are confident that a recount will do nothing to change the fact that Roy Cooper has won this election.”
So confident is Cooper of his lead, he’s already preparing to take the reins. His campaign announced Monday that it is putting in place a transition team.
A recount seems to indeed be McCrory's last recourse. So far most of the challenges he's filed in state elections have not gained a foothold. At least eight Republican-controlled boards of elections have rejected all or most of the challenges because of lack of evidence.
In one county, an allegedly dead person who voted was actually alive. In another county, two alleged convicted felons were not felons at all. In another, an elections protest was thrown out after the GOP lawyer who filed it didn’t show up until after the hearing ended.
McCrory’s contest-every-vote strategy has come under criticism from election officials.
“You can’t just say, ‘I think you’re a convicted felon and you don’t have the right to vote,’ ” Halifax County Election Board Chairwoman Sandra Partin said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, as her county rejected a voter fraud case. “You’ve got to have some proof to back that up.”
And this from the News & Observer:
Rhonda Amoroso, a Republican State Board of Elections member, said she found the complaints troubling. “It may appear to folks in the public that we have a systemic issue of voter fraud,” she said. “It puts a cloud over the integrity of the election process of North Carolina.”
If McCrory loses, he’ll be the only incumbent governor to lose this year — and one of just a handful of sitting governors to lose in the modern era. His approval rating dropped this spring after he signed a bill that limited which public bathrooms transgender people could use and blocked municipalities’ ability to pass anti-LGBT-discrimination laws. Backlash to the law reverberated across the business, sports and entertainment community. PayPal pulled out of a deal with the state, and Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert there. The NBA and the NCAA also canceled their moneymaking basketball tournaments in the state.
Mucking this up even further are 1,500 outstanding provisional ballots from voters who said they registered at the Division of Motor Vehicles but whose names didn’t appear in the registration lists. The News & Observer reports these are mostly from rural areas and could boost McCrory's total.
McCrory’s camp says that given the closeness of the race, it makes sense to wait until every last vote is counted for either side to declare victory.
“Why is Roy Cooper so insistent on circumventing the electoral process and counting the votes of dead people and felons? It may be because he needs those fraudulent votes to count in order to win,” Ricky Diaz, McCrory’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “Instead of insulting North Carolina voters, we intend to let the process work as it should to ensure that every legal vote is counted properly.”
But even after that happens, this seemingly never-ending campaign might not be over. A recount likely won't get started until Thanksgiving.
There’s also a remote possibility that the GOP-dominated legislature could step in to try to settle this. But the chips would have to fall a very certain way for that to happen, and GOP legislators have indicated they’d be reluctant to get involved, even to try to save a governor from their own party. (Although in an interview Monday with with the News & Observer, House Speaker Tim Moore (R) didn't rule it out: "The fact that there are a number of protests related to the election at least make it an issue that it’s something that needs to be dealt with.")
Increasingly, it looks like McCrory’s path to keeping his job lies in somehow finding enough evidence of voter fraud to overturn Cooper’s lead and/or hope that a recount produces 6-8,000 votes for him. At this point, he has yet to find even enough alleged cases to make a difference. And it's to-be-determined on the recount. But one thing's for sure: This North Carolina governor's race is going to drag on for at least a few more weeks.