Not Over Yet - The Voter Canvass in North Carolina

Nov 22, 2016

The Election is over but the results aren’t final. Throughout the week, provisional ballots were, and continue to be, counted and sorted in the Local Canvass.

As Chris Thomas reports, it’s a time-consuming process for local election officials.

Credit ABC 11

Sorry to say – it’s not over yet.

“For election officials all across North Carolina and all across the state, it is not over for us until we actually canvass.”

Meloni Wray is director of the Craven County Board of Elections.

“We have 10 days, roughly, after the election to canvass which means we balance our counting the ballots, we make sure everyone’s got history that needs history. We count provisional ballots. We count the absentees and…the mail-in ballots that have (come) in so our work is not over.”

Local Canvass meetings began about an hour ago at boards of election throughout North Carolina. The results of the 2016 election won’t be final until local boards turn in their results for the State Canvass Nov. 29th.

The Local Canvass process involves a manual count of ballots that have discrepancies.

“We start sorting through the materials that all of our precincts brought in. We first go through and try to find all the provisional ballots and get those ready for entry.”

Provisional ballots aren’t part of the tally on Election Night because there may be a question of their legitimacy.

“In this county, we had over 650 (provisional ballots) – that’s a lot for a three person staff.”

After they’re sorted by precinct, they’re categorized nto three piles: approved, not approved, and partial count.

“Partial counts are people who did not go to their proper precincts for whatever reasons and if they were not in a House District – which is the only one that would affect them in Craven County – we can’t count that House District race.”

The Canvass is sometimes seen as a formality that changes little more than the final, overall count. In following with the year-long political trend, though, this year is complicated. The Governor’s race hasn’t been decided and the razor thin margin separating Incumbent Republican Pat McCrory and current Attorney General, Democrat Roy Cooper, is likely to trigger a recount.

Tied to the Governor’s race are allegations of voting improprieties in Durham and Bladen Counties. Durham County’s switch to paper ballots on Election Day has many questioning the process and in Bladen County, the issue is proper documentation of absentee ballots.

“This is the most unusual year I’ve ever seen and experienced and I have been working here since 2005.”

That’s Wilson County Board of Elections Director Renee Morris.

In N.C. House District 8 on the eastern end of her county – split with Pitt County – there’s a hotly contested race between another Republican Incumbent, Susan Martin, and her Democratic opponent, Charlie Farris with Martin leading by just over 200 votes.

In an election where a handful of votes can tip the outcome one way or another, the meticulous process is under especially high scrutiny. Morris says part of the research process for checking provisional ballots includes records from state agencies.  

“If someone attempts to register at the DMV or has registered at the DMV and for some reason we did not get their application, we do a DMV search and get a report back from the DMV.”

Election officials strongly encourage new or returning residents to touch base with the DMV 30 days or more before any Election Day so their ballot is sure to count.

“If someone…has been removed and has been moved out of the county or the state but…maybe they have moved back to Wilson but have failed to register, they would not count unless we do get a report from the DMV that they attempted to register.”

As is the case with other Board of Elections meetings, canvass count meetings are open to the public.

Michael Schachter of the North Carolina NAACP’s Craven County Branch.

“One of the things they do with it I know is they’re researched but we would like to know what that process is particularly for ballots, for example, that have no records of registration, have no acceptable ID, or that the voters were removed and we’d like to know their procedure in checking these things.”

The NAACP and its branches have been keenly involved in North Carolina’s electoral proceedings – both on the streets and in the courts. They were one of the lead plaintiffs in a suit against North Carolina’s Voter ID law and won another case just before Election Day, preventing several counties – including Beaufort – from purging names from their rolls.

“We want to make sure that everybody who could vote is able to vote. The NAACP is a civil rights organization and a social justice organization…we are concerned about the issues and not necessarily about the voting of the people and so that’s why we are concerned that everybody vote that wanted to vote will count.”

The NAACP also led initiatives to watch the polls for signs of intimidation or other indecent behavior. We reached out to the North Carolina chapter of the National Socialist Movement – a white nationalist organization that led a similar initiative – but did not hear back from them.

If you missed your chance to vote, worry not – there are elections every year in North Carolina – even if they’re not headline news across the world.

I’m Chris Thomas.