North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, joined by his wife Kristin, reacts after being declared winner over Republican Dan Forest in the governor's race in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. State election officials certified the governor's race and most in the state Tuesday, Nov. 24. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) Election 2020 Governor Cooper
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, joined by his wife Kristin, reacts after being declared winner over Republican Dan Forest in the governor's race in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. State election officials certified the governor's race and most in the state Tuesday, Nov. 24. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

State election board votes 4-1, with one Republican opposing, to certify most results, although pending recounts and protests in five races remain.

North Carolina election officials on Tuesday certified the outcomes in most of the state’s races, including the race for president, the US Senate, and governor. 

That makes wins for President Donald Trump, Gov. Roy Cooper, and US Sen. Thom Tillis official, although state election leaders held off on certifying the results in five races with pending protests or recounts, including a very tight race for chief justice of the NC Supreme Court.

“I am extraordinarily proud in the midst of a pandemic that we broke all sorts of turnout records,” state Board of Elections Chair Damon Circosta said. 

State officials noted turnout of 75.4% of NC’s registered voters came in an election upended when North Carolina’s had its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in March. Since then, the virus has infected more than 342,000 North Carolinians and killed 5,074. Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said officials wondered at the beginning of the pandemic if they could even have an election during such a dangerous pandemic.

The state needed between 25,000 and 30,000 people to enlist in low-paying poll-worker jobs in this pandemic election, Bell noted, and the state received more than 60,000 interest forms from North Carolinians. “What an outpouring of support for the election process,” she said.

Bell added that leaders also found “creative ways” to meet the health recommendations of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, including opening up voting in larger venues such as the Carolina Panthers stadium in Charlotte and a skating rink in Gaston County. 

She said 1.4 million voters in the state asked for absentee ballots, and more than 1 million of those ballots were returned. In addition to early voting turnout, the state saw a relatively quiet Election Day with just about 900,000 turning up at the polls.  

“This is an unprecedented year,” Bell said. “And it has proven to be an historic election.”

Furthermore, board members cited a recent poll from the conservative group Civitas that showed 68% of North Carolinians believe the election was held fairly. In that poll, 48% of voters said they were “very confident” and 20% said they were “somewhat confident.” The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.33%, sample 513 likely NC voters between Nov. 12-14.

“In a day and age where almost every poll is 50-50, I believe 68% is a good start,” Circosta said. 

Thom Tillis, Donald Trump
In this March 2, 2020, file photo Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks during a campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Charlotte, N.C. State election officials certified the election results Tuesday, sealing Trump and Tillis’ victories in the divided state. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

Five races to watch

Tuesday’s certification did not include results in the race for chief justice, as well as races for a Wake County District Court judge in District 10F, NC House District 36 in Wake County, the Hoke County Board of Education, and the Wayne County Register of Deeds. All of those races have pending recounts or protests.

Incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley requested a recount last week after all the ballots were counted in her race against Republican Paul Newby. That recount is ongoing, the state says, with Newby leading Beasley by 409 votes in a race where more than 5 million people voted. The state is posting live updates of that recount in all 100 counties as they are reported. 

It also did not come without some controversy. Board member Tommy Tucker, a former Republican state senator from Union County, was the lone vote against certifying election results Tuesday.

Tucker said his vote wasn’t about the results, but about procedures, complaining that state election board members and staff moved for court-ordered emergency voting regulation changes. Those changes allowed for NC to count absentee ballots mailed on or before Election Day for up to nine days after the election, citing post office delays and the pandemic. Tucker said such changes should have been left to the NC General Assembly, which writes voting laws but declined to make changes when it met during the summer. 

“I have a personal concern not only for our country, but also for our state that people have the integrity of the election,” said Tucker. “This has been the most controversial election nationwide in my lifetime that I can remember.”

The five-member Board of Elections, which is appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, includes three Democrats and two Republicans, including Tucker. The board’s other Republican, Boone attorney Stacy Eggers IV, voted to certify Tuesday.

Tucker indicated many conservative supporters of President Trump do not believe the election was conducted fairly, although election experts say there is no credible evidence of major voter irregularities. Also, the president has lost dozens of legal challenges in states in which he hoped to overturn the results of the election, which found Democrat Joe Biden to be the winner. 

At one point Tuesday, Tucker seemed to blame lawsuits from Democrats for delays in the US Post Office this election, although most say cuts and policy changes under Trump’s postmaster appointee Louis DeJoy prior to the election are to blame

Multiple board members seemed miffed by Tucker’s criticism Tuesday. Board member Jeff Carmon, a Democrat from Snow Hill, said changes made prior to this election were intended to make voting more accessible during a pandemic. 

“As to allegations of collusion, I find it dishonorable to hear that,” Carmon said. 

Circosta, the board’s chair and also a Democrat, also said he was “disappointed” the panel didn’t have unanimous support for certifying the election results. 

“We as a board are going to have to realize that we live in a state where neither side has a monopoly on the will of the people,” Circosta said. “If we’re going to work together as a board, we’re going to have to understand that.”