North Carolina GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed a 2013 voter-ID law which a federal court rolled back this year for illegally suppressed African-American votes, is claiming massive voter fraud in his state swung the 2016 election against him, as McCrory’s campaign continues to challenge Democrat Roy Cooper’s thin lead two weeks after Election Day.
The contentious, bitter race between McCrory and Cooper, the state attorney general, is the closest governor’s race in the country in a dozen years — and it’s not officially over. Cooper, the state attorney general, has extended his lead to 7,902 votes during an ongoing canvass of absentee and provisional ballots, his campaign says. (The State Board of Elections, which updates less frequently, shows Cooper leading by 6,703 votes.) And on Monday, Cooper announced a transition team to prepare to take the reins of state government despite McCrory’s intense push to dispute the results.
But McCrory still hasn’t conceded, alleging voter fraud in 50 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and contesting individual votes before dozens of local election boards, claiming that dead people, felons and people who voted in other states cast ballots in the race. On Sunday, the McCrory campaign emailed supporters, saying the “election is still in overtime,” and soliciting contributions for its legal fund.
North Carolina, carried by Donald Trump, was a key battleground state in the presidential race, and the incredibly tight gubernatorial election has drawn national attention thanks to McCrory’s outsized role in tightening North Carolina voting laws and signing the state’s “bathroom bill” earlier this year. With the governor on the wrong end of a very tight race, his supporters are crying foul.
“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, a McCrory 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.”
So far, at least eight county election boards, which are Republican-controlled, have rejected the majority of McCrory’s complaints. Several more counties are holding evidentiary hearings this week. On Sunday, the state Board of Elections dismissed McCrory’s request to take over all the voter complaints and rule on them, insisting that counties needed to “make fact-finding decisions.” (The state elections board did review a McCrory complaint regarding absentee ballots in Bladen County.)
“They’ve been working a long time, so they want to see it out to the final note of the symphony. They have the right to do that,” said Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican strategist in the state. “I’ve been involved in two of these recounts before, and both were smaller margins than this one, but at the end, very little changed. And right now, not much has changed so far. I doubt it’ll change the outcome.”
Democrats insist McCrory aims to cast doubt on the entire electoral system, echoing Trump’s repeated assertions that the process was “rigged.”
“In light of the Republican-controlled state and local Board of Elections summarily rejecting McCrory’s frivolous requests, it’s just time for Gov. McCrory to concede,” said Morgan Jackson, Cooper’s campaign strategist. “It’s time for him to stop wasting taxpayer dollars. It’s time for him to stop putting up needless delays and to finally put the people of North Carolina above his own self-interest.”
To make up the gap, local operatives said, McCrory’s campaign would need to present evidence that could knock out votes from an entire county. Currently, estimates put the number of ballots McCrory is contesting between 150 and 500 votes.
The Durham County Board of Elections rejected McCrory’s best hope at recounting a chunk of votes (94,000), dismissing McCrory’s complaint “for lack of evidence,” said William Brian, the chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections. Brian noted that the burden of proof is on the complainant in these cases.
“This race has simply gotten away from Pat McCrory,” Marc Elias, Cooper’s lawyer, told reporters on Friday. “More North Carolinians voted for Roy Cooper than Pat McCrory, and did so by a close but significant margin. There is nothing Gov. McCrory or his legal team are going to be able to do to undo what is just basic math.”
McCrory’s legal team said Durham County used data from potentially corrupted voting machines. On Election Day, several precincts in Durham County had problems with their electronic voting machines — “not atypical,” Brian said — which forced a hand count and, in turn, slowed the reporting process and led Republicans to question a late surge of votes.
“The votes came in on time, but we didn’t get them entered into the computer until late. It’s not like somebody found 95,000 at midnight somewhere,” Brian said. “We just had to enter them manually.”
Brian added: “The fact that so many Republicans won in the state, and there are others who didn’t follow that pattern, I understand why people would want that looked into.” The Durham County election board will hear several more complaints Monday evening.
ROperatives expect the process to drag on for several more weeks. Cooper’s margin over McCrory is expected to remain below 10,000 votes, which means McCrory can call for a recount.
“I expect the governor will ask for a recount but I don’t think there’s any chance it changes result,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. “For the governor to talk about how inappropriate things happened — hey, Trump won the state! Hey, wake up, smell the coffee. You lost.”
The Republican candidate for state auditor, who’s losing by about 3,600 votes to the Democratic incumbent as canvassing continues in that race as well, said he’s prepared to call for a recount.
“Roy Cooper thinks he’s the Governor-elect of what? The voting dead? Roy Cooper should respect the process to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted before measuring the drapes,” said Dallas Woodhouse, the state’s Republican Party executive director, in a statement Monday. “Despite partisan lines, we want to make sure the man with the most votes wins this election, and it’s a shame that Roy Cooper doesn’t want the same.”
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