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Trailing his opponent by over 10,000 votes nearly a month after Election Day, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory could be close to accepting defeat.
The Durham County Board of Elections is expected to hold a machine recount of 90,000 votes this week in the Democratic stronghold, which is possibly where the Republican governor’s final hope of eking out a re-election victory will die.
Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general, won Durham County by a wide margin of 79 percent to 20 percent, according to the State Board of Elections’ official tally. After the county recount, if the results are unchanged, McCrory’s campaign is on record saying it will abandon plans to pursue a statewide recount in the already drawn-out governor’s race.
Asked how long the recount would take, Brian Francis, media liaison for the Durham County Board of Elections, couldn’t give an exact estimate. “We don’t know yet,” he told NBC News.
Yet some political experts believe the recount will be swift, producing the same result as the one that came in from the strongest Democratic county in the state late on November 8: McCrory lost.
“The reality is that the Durham numbers are extremely consistent with how Durham always votes,” said Tom Jensen, director of the North Carolina-based firm Public Policy Polling. “There’s nothing in the numbers that strikes me as particularly suspicious.”
McCrory’s supporters disagree. The roughly 90,000 votes under scrutiny in Durham were added to the statewide tally very late on the night of the election, eliminating the lead McCrory had maintained throughout the entire day.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the delay came because election workers entered information from ballot tabulators’ paper tapes after they were unable to read data from six memory cards that also came from the tabulators.
Experts on the equipment told Durham officials that the paper tapes were reliable, the News & Observer reported. But McCrory’s supporters wanted to rule out chicanery as a factor.
“I’m not saying that’s what happened here,” retired Judge James Baker, a Republican member of the State Board of Elections, said Wednesday, according to the News & Observer. “I personally don’t have any reason to doubt that any information entered was correct.”
The state board voted 3-2 along party lines that night to order a machine recount in Durham County.
McCrory’s hopes of closing the widening gap between himself and his opponent were complicated in the past week when, for the first time, Cooper’s lead surpassed 10,000 votes, the threshold whereby state law allows McCrory to ask for a recount. His campaign had already filed for a recount before all the absentee and provisional ballots were tallied. But in a press release earlier this week, McCrory’s campaign said it would “be prepared to withdraw its statewide recount request” if the Durham recount produces the same results.
Cooper's campaign manager, Trey Nix, issued a statement when the Democrat's margin of victory hit 10,329 votes. "Game over," Nix said of McCrory's refusal to concede.
Given that no evidence of voter fraud has surfaced so far, some are confident the end is near for McCrory, who faced significant hurdles to his re-election after his state lost jobs, conventions, businesses and basketball events over the so-called "bathroom bill" he signed that restricts transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
“The results have already been certified by the Republican-led Durham County Board of Elections,” said Steve Greene, political science professor at NC State University. “There’s no reason to think anything should change when those votes are recounted. The Republicans have been in charge of this process.”
Others are less sure. The Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank backed by billionaire retail magnate Art Pope, has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the State Board of Elections from certifying the results until tens of thousands of voters who registered on Election Day have their addresses verified.
While Greene believes it would be an “extreme step” for a judge to change the election results based off that lawsuit, other legal experts think it could further delay the process — even if McCrory concedes after the Durham recount.
“The lawsuit is a stand-alone action that was not geared to whether the governor concedes or not, but to test the underlying voting count and procedures that occurred here,” Irving L. Joyner, legal counsel at the North Carolina NAACP, which has filed a motion to dismiss Civitas’ lawsuit, said on a press call Friday. “I would think those arguments are independent of what Gov. McCrory might decide to do with respect to the outcome of the Durham recount.”