Columns

End of the Recount Road for North Carolina Governor

Gov. Pat McCrory speaks during a news conference in Raleigh, N.C., on May 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory finally admitted this week that he needs a new job.

The Republican had refused to concede the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election to the state’s attorney general, Democrat Roy Cooper.

McCrory demanded, and has received, a recount. That has dragged on since the initial results were counted.

Today, as elections officials got around to recounting the votes in Durham County, McCrory conceded via video message.

“I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken, and we now should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper,” he said. “The McCrory administration team will assist in every way to help the new administration make a smooth transition.”

“It’s time to celebrate our democratic process and respect what I see to be the ultimate outcome of the closest North Carolina governor’s race in modern history.”

Cooper, adopting the title governor-elect, already launched a transition website. “While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us,” he said. “Together, we can make North Carolina the shining beacon in the south by investing in our schools, supporting working families and building a state that works for everyone.”

Durham County was deemed as critical to the McCrory-Cooper race as Florida was to Bush v. Gore.

McCrory campaign manager Russell Peck pointed to a story reported by ABC-11, which told of a long list of Election Day operations malfunctions in Durham.

But elections officials, at first, disputed Peck’s version of Election Day difficulties.

“It went very, very well. We had very little trouble other than Bethesda,” Durham Board of Elections Chair William Brian told the Raleigh-Durham TV station Nov. 10.

Yes, there was a slight problem in Bethesda. Brian had to admit precinct workers at the Bethesda Ruritan Club ran out of forms early Election Day and closed up shop for an hour and a half.

“They didn’t tell anybody and they shut the place down,” Brian said. “That was not something that was authorized.”

Some voters didn’t cast a ballot. Others had to come back a few times to vote.

And then there were the election devices Durham County used to check in voters. The machines didn’t work. Poll workers switched over to paper records.

This is where the GOP hoped to find enough votes to propel their man, McCrory, to victory.

Brian also had to admit that it wasn’t the first time they’ve had a hiccup with the new technology.

“They were problematic in March because people didn’t know how to work them very well, and we had a lot of older people who were having difficulty with the computers working in the polls and things like that, and now we’ve had this software problem,” said Brian.

Problems experienced by voters in March only served to make the McCrory camp more suspicious of what happened the night of Nov. 8.

“During the March 15 primary election, the Durham County Board of Elections mishandled roughly 1,900 provisional ballots,” the McCrory campaign said, “forcing the state to allow eligible voters to recast their ballots months later. It was also recently reported that the state board of elections turned over their completed investigation to investigators who are now looking into whether crimes were committed in this case, as election officials said the wrong vote count was accurate and some votes may have been counted twice.”

NAACP president William Barber said he was “deeply suspicious” of the problems in Durham County.

“We have to demand a full accounting and a full reckoning because every vote is important,” Barber said.

He’s not the only one who is concerned.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said Durham “historically has not figured out how to carry out an election properly.”

So it’s easy to see why the McCrory campaign hoped the results in Durham County, which showed their man losing to Cooper, could be reversed.

Russell Peck said the GOP was most concerned with more than 90,000 early votes in Durham that were counted late, and pushed the race in that county to Cooper by a slim margin over McCrory.

Some of the electronic vote-counting machines ran out of memory. Election workers then counted 94,000 votes by hand. Technicians have pulled the date and confirmed the results of the hand count.

But Republicans said because of the machine malfunction they were concerned about hacking and fraud, and demanded a recount to erase all doubts.

“The malfunctions and irregularities in Durham have been extremely troubling to this campaign and the people of North Carolina, and the State Board confirmed several errors,” said Peck.

“Once this occurs, we can all move towards a conclusion of this process,” he added.

The recount in Durham has been as heated as the McCrory vs. Cooper campaign.

The Durham County Board of Elections emerged from an emergency meeting Friday and said the state’s recount order was “unreasonable” and asked for an extension to count approximately 94,000 votes.

Unreasonable? The elections board found out during that meeting they would not only have to recount the votes for governor, but they would also have to count every single vote cast in Durham County for every single proposal and candidate that was on the ballot.

However, after another emergency meeting the next day, the Durham BOE said they would proceed with the recount over the weekend and could be finished by tonight.

Democrat Roy Cooper held a 10,256-vote lead over McCrory at last count. That’s beyond the threshold for a statewide recount. So McCrory was within his rights to demand all the counties in North Carolina go through what Durham County is experiencing.

But the McCrory campaign said in a statement Nov. 26 that if a Durham recount provides the same results as earlier posted, the McCrory Committee would withdraw its statewide recount request in the governor’s race.

But no matter who is governor, Durham County is still left with the challenge of running a proper election.

The county elections board said they could have purchased new, better, voting machines. But they can’t. That money had to go to pay for the McCrory-Cooper election recount.

This story was updated with McCrory’s concession at 2:25 p.m. EST