2020 Election: When will we find out election results in North Carolina?
October 27, 2020
Election Day is one week away and it could not come any sooner. The election itself, however, is far from over. More likely than not, we will not know the victor on Election Night. This is because there is an unprecedented amount of absentee and mail-in ballots being sent this year and, due to many election laws that vary by state and locality, these ballots will likely take a long time to count.
In this series of explainers, I’ve looked into the question of when the results of each swing state might be counted by. Next stop: North Carolina! Click here to read the explainers on the elections in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Additionally, for an explanation about the difference between mail-in and absentee ballots, check out this piece here by Ben Wilson: The Difference Between Absentee and Mail-In Ballots.
At least seven million North Carolinians have registered to vote this election and, as of October 25, over 3 million voters have already cast their ballots, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. In 2016, the total amount of votes cast in the state was 3.14 million.
And when it comes to absentee ballots, which this state doesn’t differentiate from mail-in ballots, 724,900 of these have already been accepted as of Friday, ABC News 13 (Asheville) and Carolina Public Press have reported. That’s more than three times the amount of absentee ballots cast in North Carolina during the last presidential election. Karen Brinson Bell, the state’s Elections Director, told ABC News 13 that she expects the total absentee ballot count to reach 1 million.
Two important factors to note are that: (1) North Carolina permits its election workers to begin counting absentee ballots on Election Day before the polls close, and (2) ballots postmarked before 5 pm on Election Day and received up through November 12 can be counted. These are key because, firstly, it gives election workers a head start in counting all the ballots received in the mail and, secondly, it gives voters’ ballots more time to reach election clerks because of anticipated delays with the U.S. Postal Service.
For a few weeks now, county election boards have been congregating weekly to look over absentee ballots to certify that they’re valid. According to ABC News 11 (Raleigh-Durham): “The ballots are then processed into the ballot computer. The vote is counted, the data stored, but not tabulated for winners and losers until election night.”
So, with all that out of the way, what’s a safe guess for when we can expect the state’s election results?
A good starting point is November 24, when North Carolina is scheduled to certify its election results, ABC News 13 reports. But that’s tentative and a lot can go wrong or right between now and that date.
Tomas Lopez, the executive director of Democracy NC, the Raleigh-based nonpartisan advocacy group for democratic structures, told ABC News 11: “I think we’re going to have a lot of votes counted early on.”
As for whether or not he guesses that the winner of North Carolina will be known by the end of Election Night, he said that “it depends.”
“I know that might be disappointing to some folks,” he continued. “It’s gonna depend a lot on what the margins are; how many people voted on Election Day relative to prior to Election Day; and it’s gonna depend on how many absentee ballots are still outstanding.”
In that same spirit of Mr. Lopez, a lot is up in the air and a lot can go wrong. His guess is as good as, and is most likely better than, mine—me being a New Yorker and all. It’ll sound like a cop-out on my part, but we will honestly have to wait and see what happens on Election Day and the days, weeks, and months following it. All we can do is speculate, learn to find comfort in the uncertainty, and stand by for the official certified results.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.