Betsy Bailey and Victor Barbour of the Carolinas Associated General Contractors (CAGC) posted the following report on the Nov. 3 General Elections on Nov. 6. We’ve updated this report in places where new information has become available.
Trump and Tillis lead in NC – Election results not final until Nov. 13
North Carolina will not finish counting votes in the presidential and state elections until local elections boards process outstanding mail-in and provisional ballots next week, according to state elections officials. The process, spelled out in state law, means the winner of North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes for president likely won’t be known until Nov. 13.
President Donald Trump is leading Democratic challenger Joe Biden in North Carolina, but The Associated Press has not called the race as of Nov. 4, with 116,200 outstanding mail-in ballots, plus an unknown number of provisional ballots, none of which will be counted until next week. Earlier in the day, the State Board of Elections said there were 117,460 outstanding absentee ballots.
Damon Circosta, the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, urged people to have patience as the state’s votes are counted, and then audited as is normal, to make sure the results are accurate. “As has been our constant refrain this election season, our job is to get the count right, as fast as we can — but above all correct,” he said at a press conference.
Trump currently (on Nov. 11) leads Biden by 73,294 votes in North Carolina, according to unofficial tallies provided by the N.C. State Board of Elections. That means the balance of the race could potentially change as all the votes are counted — not to mention other races like those for attorney general or chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, which are within even smaller margins.
The number of provisional ballots — which voters cast when there’s a question if they’re eligible to vote, or if they showed up at the wrong precinct or ran into some other problem — is estimated to be around 40,000.
It’s not known how many of the mail-in ballots will actually arrive; people can request a mail ballot but decide not to vote. The ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by Nov. 12 to be counted. Similarly, it’s unclear how many of the provisional ballots cast will eventually be counted.
Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said that in 2016 around 61,000 people cast provisional ballots, and after a review, around 27,000 were counted. The wait for final results come as more than 5.4 million of 7.3 million registered voters in North Carolina cast their ballots. About 4.5 million ballots were cast before Election Day: roughly 3.6 million through one-stop early voting and more than 950,000 by mail.
And while counties are allowed to inform the public of how many ballots come in , they can’t open up those ballots and count them until their already scheduled meetings. In response to reporters’ questions about the timeline, Brinson Bell said that “in most cases the counties are going to be meeting Nov. 12” or on Nov. 13.
That means the results won’t change much between now and Nov. 12 or 13 “with very few exceptions,” Bell said. Even then, the results won’t be official. State officials won’t finalize the vote tallies until Nov. 24, three weeks after the election, as is common. “We will continue the same processes of chain of custody, reconciliation, auditing,” Brinson Bell said, calling that process “steps we have taken for decades.”
Tillis Holds Lead in Senate Race, Cunningham concedes
Late on Election Night, Sen. Thom Tillis stepped to the stage in front of cheering supporters in Mooresville, ready to declare victory in his reelection bid. “Sweet,” he said. Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, then led Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by about 96,000 votes in their U.S. Senate race, according to unofficial results from the state board.
After several days, Cunningham conceded and called Tillis to congratulate him.
Outcome of congressional races
Former State Rep. Deborah Ross, who four years ago unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Richard Burr for his seat, was declared the winner by AP in the race to represent a redrawn congressional district that takes up most of Wake County. Unofficial early results showed Ross, a Raleigh Democrat, was well ahead of Republican Alan Swain in a district that state lawmakers redrew last year in response to a gerrymandering lawsuit. House District 2 is now strongly Democratic in voter registration; incumbent Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, decided not to run after four terms.
Democrats were expected to increase their share of representation on North Carolina’s 13-seat U.S. House delegation from three seats to at least five as a result of the Republican-led state legislature’s redrawing of districts. The 6th District was redrawn to take in all of Guilford County and part of Forsyth County, also making it much more Democrat friendly. Democrat Kathy Manning of Greensboro won that seat over Republican Lee Haywood, the AP reported, based on early unofficial results. The incumbent in that district, Rep. Mark Walker, a Greensboro Republican, also decided not to run for reelection.
But those were the only two seats they could add, losing in three races that had been considered competitive. Several seats were considered safe for incumbents, including Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat who won reelection to a 17th term representing the 4th District, the AP reported. He was ahead of Republican Robert Thomas 73% to 27% with 30% of the votes cast.
Most of the attention on North Carolina’s congressional races focused on the 8th, 9th and 11th districts, three seats that have been held by Republicans but had tight polling numbers.
The 11th covering Western North Carolina drew national attention; it’s an open seat formerly held by Republican Mark Meadows who left earlier this year to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Madison Cawthorn, 25, defeated retired Air Force colonel and Democrat Morris “Moe” Davis, according to the Associated Press. Cawthorn’s rise to fame has also come with controversy, including accusations of sexual misconduct, racism, ties to white supremacy and lying about his record.
The race was considered the most competitive in years for the district, which now covers all or part of 17 western counties. But Cawthorn held a sizable margin over Davis, with 54.49% of the vote to 42.39%, with all but one of the district’s 304 precincts reporting as of 11:30 p.m. The contest garnered national attention when Cawthorn defeated the candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump and Meadows. Since then, Cawthorn became the focus of the race, as the GOP looks to the Hendersonville native to bridge its challenges with young voters.
Republicans have attacked Davis, 62, for a series of aggressive, sometimes profane tweets he posted before he began his candidacy. Davis has called the language he used “bombastic” and said the posts were not literal. Cawthorn drew over $3.6 million as the GOP sought to clinch a victory in a district that voted 57% for Trump in 2016, out-raising Davis’ more than $1.8 million.
Republican incumbent Dan Bishop won reelection to the 9th District, a seat that he claimed in a special election last year that had to be held after a ballot harvesting scandal. He beat Democrat Cynthia Wallace by more than 10 percentage points with 98% of the votes tallied, the AP reported. Bishop won his bid for his first full term in Congress in the long, snake-like district that covers south Charlotte to Robeson County, according to the Associated Press.
Republican incumbent Richard Hudson also held onto his seat in the 8th District. Despite a well-funded effort from Democrats, Hudson turned back former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Pat Timmons-Goodson in his re-election bid for the district that stretches from Cabarrus County to Fayetteville, according to AP. Hudson led Timmons-Goodson 53% to 47% with all precincts reporting in the district as of 11:28 p.m.
After last year’s redistricting, the 8th District was made somewhat more friendly to Democrats — the current district voted for Trump 53% to 44% in 2016. It’s closer to a swing district, but not close enough to make it competitive without a strong effort by a Democratic candidate. Team Blue got that strong candidate in Timmons-Goodson, the first black woman to serve on the state Supreme Court. She raised over $3 million for her bid, and outside Democrats spent $1 million more on her campaign.
In a sign of a close race, a top Republican outside spending group, the Congressional Leadership Fund, spent $2 million in the last week of the campaign to boost Hudson. The effort appears to have paid off.
The AP also declared winners Democratic incumbent G.K. Butterfield in the 1st District, and Republican incumbents Greg Murphy in the 3rd District, Virginia Foxx in the 5th District, David Rouzer in the 7th District and Ted Budd in the 13th District based on early returns.
Only one seat went uncontested, the 12th District seat held by incumbent Representative Alma Adams, a Democrat.
Republicans retain control of NC legislature
Democrats’ hard-fought attempt at gaining control of the state legislature appeared to be falling short, as Republicans lead several incumbent Democrats in races where most votes have been counted. The Republican leaders of the legislature, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, both declared victory late on Nov. 3. If remaining absentee ballots don’t change the outcome of any races, Democrats will have a net gain of one Senate seat — leaving the chamber with 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. And Republicans will add four seats to their House majority, leaving that chamber with 69 Republicans and 51 Democrats. Both margins would still be short of a veto-proof majority, paving the way for divided power to continue with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper winning a second term.
Democrats needed a net gain of six House seats and five Senate seats to win a majority. They were hoping to defeat Republican incumbents in competitive suburban and rural districts, mostly in and around the Triad, Charlotte and Eastern North Carolina. And they targeted a few open seats where a Republican incumbent declined to seek another term. But in addition to flipping GOP-held seats, Democrats needed to avoid defeats in the districts they flipped in 2018. Several of those Democratic incumbents faced well-funded challengers.
Democratic incumbents Reps. Scott Brewer, D-Richmond, Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, Ray Russell, D-Watauga, Sydney Batch, D-Wake, and Christy Clark, D-Mecklenburg, were trailing their Republican challengers in races where nearly all precincts were reporting, though with an unknown number of mail-in votes yet to be counted.
And Republicans had a good night in Cumberland County. GOP Rep. John Szoka had a narrow lead with all precincts reporting, and Republican Diane Wheatley garnered 52% of the vote for the seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Elmer Floyd, who lost his primary in March.
There have been some bright spots so far for Democrats. Rep. Perrin Jones, R-Pitt, had only 49% against Democrat Brian Farkas with all precincts reporting. Democratic challenger Ricky Hurtado led incumbent Republican Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, by 1 percentage point with all precincts in. Hurtado would likely be the only Latino in the legislature if he’s elected.
But House Democrats were resigned on election night, while Moore and Republicans celebrated. “I’d say the preliminary returns do not look very hopeful,” House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said on election night. “The seats we had hoped to pick up I don’t think we’re going to pick up. Trump at the top of the ticket was too much to overcome in those areas.” Republican Erin Paré’s lead over Batch in southern Wake County was a rare bright spot in a county where Democrats won other contests. “It was a really hard-fought campaign for all sides,” Paré said. “I think it just shows that hopefully we can all come together after this big competition and get some big things done.”
Senate results so far point to a continuation of the status quo in that chamber, although the margins remained close in several of the most competitive races. Republicans led with between 53% and 55% of the vote in four races that Democrats targeted, with Sens. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth. and Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, looking to hold onto their seats. Former Republican Sen. Michael Lee appeared poised to retake the seat he lost to Sen. Harper Peterson, D-New Hanover, in 2018. Lee led by 1 point with all precincts reporting. In a hotly contested Triad race, Republican Amy Galey had 52% over Democrat J.D. Wooten, and she told The News & Observer that she’s “cautiously optimistic” about a win.
Berger issued a news release on the results, saying that “for the sixth consecutive election, voters made a clear choice in support of the Republican platform of low taxes, expanded school choice, and large investments in education and teacher pay.” But Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, stressed that the results aren’t final yet. “We just want to be patient with the process and make sure we count every vote,” he said. “We want to let the process work itself out.”
This year’s legislative races took place in districts that were redrawn in 2019 through court-ordered redistricting. A panel of judges ruled that certain House and Senate districts, including several in Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties, were unconstitutional gerrymanders. The redrawn districts made it likely that Democrats would pick up an additional Senate seat in Wake and Mecklenburg, and the incumbents in those districts, Republican Sens. John Alexander and Rob Bryan, decided not to run for reelection.
In the House, redistricting gave Democrats a better shot at flipping the Pitt County district represented by Jones, but several other House districts currently held by Democrats became more competitive for Republicans. Even with the district changes, Democrats argued that the overall legislative map in North Carolina remained a gerrymander favoring Republicans, pointing to analysis that showed if statewide votes for House and Senate were split 50-50 between the parties, Republicans would still keep a majority in both Chambers.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has been reelected to a second term, the Associated Press reported, defeating Republican challenger Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. With all precincts reporting, Cooper led with 51% of the vote compared to Forest’s 46% of the vote. Libertarian candidate Steven J. DiFiore had 1% of votes, and Constitution Party candidate Al Pisano had less than 1%.
In his acceptance speech, Cooper talked about how North Carolinians are resilient, inclusive, creative and “do not give up easily.” He said in the coming weeks, North Carolinians “have to work harder than ever to understand each other’s perspective. He urged people to respect each other even if they held different political beliefs, saying everyone needs to come together.
Cooper said they should “focus on what we have in common rather than our differences.” He touched briefly on policy issues, mentioning health care, thriving public schools, clean air and water, and the “reckoning of systems that have excluded too many people.” Cooper took the stage shortly before 11 p.m. at the Democratic Party headquarters, appearing with his wife and three daughters.
The coronavirus pandemic changed this election year. The first case in North Carolina was recorded on the day of the March primary. Both Cooper and Forest easily won their nominations, and spent the rest of the year campaigning on very different perspectives on response to the pandemic. As governor, Cooper led North Carolina’s response and the restrictions.
He issued the statewide stay-at-home order in the spring, which has been lifted in phases and is now in the final phase. Some restrictions are still in place, especially around capacity at restaurants and bars, and gathering size. He also put a statewide mask mandate in place, which remains. Forest, on the other hand, said he would lift the mask mandate and reopen all businesses.
It’s difficult to separate the governor’s race from the ongoing pandemic, North Carolina Democratic Party communications director Austin Cook said, noting that education, job .security and healthcare are now all seen through a distinct coronavirus prism. “That’s the one thing that’s impacting everyone’s daily lives most directly,” Cook said. “And not just in terms of what we’re able to get outside and do. … Parents are nervous about whether their kids are going to be able to get the schooling they need. It’s job security. And it’s healthcare, everyone wants to be able to make sure they can see a doctor if they get sick.”
Forest’s campaign held a separate event in Johnston County. At the event in Selma, media outlets were not allowed inside until Forest took the stage around 11 p.m. In his concession speech, he said his campaign “left it all out on the field.”
Council of State election outcomes
Candidates facing off for positions on North Carolina’s Council of State fought one another to the very end, with several tight races. Republican Mark Robinson was elected the state’s first African American lieutenant governor in unofficial results. Republicans also will likely hold six of the 10 Council of State seats, according to results with 99.96% of precincts reporting. Becoming a member of North Carolina’s Council of State comes with a $136,699 annual salary for the nine positions underneath the governor.
Robinson ran against Democrat Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley and won 52%-48%. “We’re feeling real good, “ he told The News & Observer in between interviews on election night. “Of course it’s a whirlwind right now.” Not only did Robinson become the first African American to fill the seat but also the second African American to hold a position on the Council of State. Additionally, he is the first African American Republican to win a major seat since the 1800s. The lieutenant governor, a position with a two-term limit, leads the state Senate but only votes during a tie. The current lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, made rare appearances in the chamber.
Robinson, 52, a Greensboro Republican, became known around the nation as an outspoken gun rights advocate who spoke out at his city’s council meeting. A video of him asking the council to stand up for his Second Amendment rights went viral. He has no prior political experience. Holley, 68, a Raleigh Democrat, has spent four terms in the state House of Representatives and 25 years as a state employee.
Josh Stein said he is confident he will retain his seat as attorney general after leading 50.1% to 49.9% over his opponent, Jim O’Neill. Stein spoke around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday at the N.C. Democratic Party Headquarters. “Given our margin, I am confident about my reelection,” Stein said. “We’ll wait until all the votes are counted, that’s how democracy works.” Stein, 54, is about to finish his first term as attorney general, succeeding now-Gov. Roy Cooper. He had worked under Cooper as senior deputy director of consumer affairs. In 2009, he ran and won a seat on the state Senate representing a portion of Wake County.
Given the coronavirus pandemic, the North Carolina Democratic Party held a subdued election night event for only party officials and the media. Stein noted that he was watching results at his home in Raleigh, before coming to the headquarters to speak. Like other Democrats, Stein made an appeal for bipartisanship, saying he would be the attorney general for all North Carolinians. His opponent, O’Neill, also 54, kept a close race against Stein throughout the night. O’Neill has spent more than two decades in the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office. Since 2009, he’s been the county’s lead prosecutor.
Beth Wood, a Democrat, is poised to remain as state auditor after the election. She was leading against her opponent, Anthony “Tony” Street, 50.8%-49.1% at midnight. Wood, 66, has served as state auditor since 2009. She holds an auditing degree from East Carolina University. Before obtaining the auditor’s seat she worked under the state auditor and in the treasurer’s office. Street, 39, a Brunswick County resident, worked in construction.
Commissioner of Agriculture
Steve Troxler will remain North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture after leading his opponent Jenna Wadsworth, 54%-46%. Troxler, 68, a Guilford Republican, has held his seat since 2005. He also owns and operates Troxler Farms in Browns Summit, where he grows soybeans, tobacco, wheat and vegetables. Wadsworth grew up on her grandfather’s farm in Johnston County, where her family raised corn, cattle, hogs, soybeans, tobacco and cotton. She serves on the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.
Commissioner of Insurance
Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey will continue serving the state in his role after winning his election against Wayne Goodwin, 52%-48%. Both Causey and Goodwin have held this seat and have become political foes over the years. Causey, 70, a Republican, was the incumbent this year after ousting Goodwin in 2016. Goodwin had held the position since 2009. Prior to being the insurance commissioner, Goodwin, 53, had been an attorney and elected for two-terms to the state House of Representatives.
Commissioner of Labor
Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry made sure everyone knew her name for the past 19 years by posting her photo in every elevator in the state. But she announced her retirement and didn’t run for re-election. Republican Josh Dobson led the race to take the open job over his opponent, Democrat Jessica Holmes, 51%-49%. Dobson, 39, is a four-term member of the N.C. House of Representatives representing Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties. Prior to that role, he served on the McDowell Board of Commissioners. Holmes, 36, chairs the Wake County commissioners after being the youngest person ever elected to the board. Holmes has mostly spent her career as an attorney advocating for labor and employment laws.
Secretary of State
After 24 years in office, Elaine Marshall will continue serving North Carolina as Secretary of State. Marshall retained her seat after winning against businessman E.C. Sykes with 51%-49% of the vote. Marshall, 74, a Democrat, beat NASCAR legend Richard Petty in 1996 to become the first woman to hold the office and a state executive office. Sykes, 60, a Republican, ran against Marshall, saying that the office needed new ideas and better customer service.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Republican Catherine Truitt will become North Carolina’s superintendent of public instruction after winning her election against Catherine Truitt, 51% to 49%. The seat became available after Superintendent Mark Johnson unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor after one term in office. Truitt, 49, spent 10 years in the classroom teaching English to middle and high school students. She then worked for the International Center for Leadership in Education, coaching under-performing schools. But in 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Truitt to serve as his senior education advisor. She now serves as chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina. Mangrum, 56, a Democrat, is the daughter of two elementary school teachers and is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She previously, but unsuccessfully ran for N.C. Senate against Senate Leader Phil Berger.
Dale Folwell remains North Carolina’s treasurer after winning the election against Ronnie Chatterji with nearly 53% of the vote. Folwell, 61, a Winston-Salem native, is a certified public accountant who became the state treasurer in 2017. He is the first Republican to hold the position in 140 years. Before running for treasurer, Folwell served four-terms in the N.C. House of Representatives. Folwell suffered from but overcame COVID-19 earlier this year. He ran against Chatterji, 42, a Durham Democrat and a tenured Duke University business and public policy professor. A first-time candidate, Chatterji served on President Barack Obama’s economic advisory Board.
Republican candidates led in tight races for three of the contested seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court and five of the seats on the Court of Appeals, according to unofficial results. Judge Paul Newby pulled ahead of Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 5.3 million votes cast late in the evening in the race for the top seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Newby, the only Republican on the Supreme Court, had 50.03% of the vote with about 99.9% of precincts reporting. Beasley had 49.97%.
Two Court of Appeals judges, Republican Phil Berger Jr. and Democrat Lucy Inman, faced off for associate justice Seat 2. Berger led the race with 51% of the vote. Inman was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2014 after serving four years as a special superior court judge appointed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue. Berger, the son of state Senate leader Phil Berger, was elected to the appellate court in 2016 after serving as an administrative law judge for two years and a district attorney for eight years for Caswell and Rockingham counties.
In the third race, Republican Tamara Barringer, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and a former state senator, had 51% of the vote. Barringer is challenging Mark Davis, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Cooper to fill the vacancy left by Beasley’s chief justice appointment. Davis served on the Court of Appeals for seven years after serving as general counsel to Perdue for two years and as a special deputy attorney general for five years. Barringer, who lives in Cary, was a state senator for eight years until she lost her reelection bid in 2018.
The court currently has six Democrats and one Republican, Newby. If all Republican candidates win, Democrats’ majority would shrink to a 4-3 split.
Guilford County Bond Referendum
On the Guilford County school bond referendum, with 126 of 165 precincts reporting on election night, 72.5% of voters supported the bond referendum, with 27.6% voting against it. As for the county’s proposed quarter cent increase in the local sales and use tax, about 66.8% of voters said no to it, while about 33.2% said yes. Passage of the $300 million school bond referendum would give permission to county commissioners to issue the bonds, but does not require them to do so.
If issued, the bonds must be used to fund school facilities. County commissioners pledged they would also use the sales tax money for school construction, but could not include on the ballot information about that pledge, which is not legally binding. Board of Commissioners Chairman Alan Branson had said he expected the sales tax money would go toward paying school construction bond debt if both measures passed.
Cherryville Bonds Approved
A trio of bond packages worth more than $8.7 million were given the go-ahead by Cherryville voters. At least 73% of voters approved $3.6 million in bonds for water system fixes and $1.8 million for sewer upgrades. A smaller percentage of voters, 56 percent, approved a $3.3 million package designed to fund downtown improvements. City leaders described the plan as a cost-effective way to raise funding from bond markets and save taxpayer dollars compared to conventional financing.