Newby holds slim lead in chief justice race, while Beasley demands recount

By Rick Henderson
Carolina Journal News Service

 RALEIGH — Fewer than 400 votes. That’s how much N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby leads Chief Justice Cheri Beasley as county elections boards completed their canvasses earlier this week.

The State Board of Elections website showed Newby, a Republican, leading the incumbent Democrat Beasley by 366 votes as of 11:48 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17. With more than 5.4 million ballots cast, the margin is within the 0.5% threshold allowing Beasley to request a statewide recount. In a letter to the board, campaign lawyer John Wallace did.

Beasley has an uphill climb. Of the 27 statewide recounts from 2000-15, only three races were reversed, according to the election group The average margin swing was 282 votes.

Since North Carolina’s 1971 Constitution was ratified, no recount has overturned a statewide election.

In 2016, incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory asked for a recount in his race against Democratic challenger Roy Cooper. Cooper led by roughly 5,000 votes on Election Day. The state elections board allowed a recount of 90,000 ballots cast in Durham County that weren’t tabulated correctly.

After the recount, and weeks of state canvassing, Cooper’s lead grew to more than 10,000 ballots. McCrory conceded Dec. 5.

But the Beasley campaign isn’t satisfied with merely running the ballots through voting machines. In a statement, Beasley campaign manager Benjamin Woods said, “Our team … will be filing protest petitions across the state to ensure over 2,000 absentee and provisional ballots that were wrongfully rejected are included in the final tally. This race is far from decided. …”

The State Board of Elections and the 100 county elections boards have Democratic majorities.

Earlier Tuesday, state Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley congratulated Newby.

“Justice Newby will serve with honor and distinction as our next Chief Justice and will faithfully uphold the rule of law,” Whatley said in a statement. “Justice Newby understands the role of the judge is to say what the law is – not what it should be.”

Whatley added that Newby was outspent by a 7-1 margin. The GOP would sweep statewide judicial races if the Newby victory stands.

Conservatives chalked up wins in all five Court of Appeals contests and two other Supreme Court races. If Newby wins, the Supreme Court will have three Republicans and four Democrats.

The chief justice is the state’s top judicial administrator, appoints the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, picks judges for the Business Court, and handles other duties outside the courtroom.

A memo from the election board Monday explained how any recount would play out. It will take place in all 100 counties, starting as early as Thursday. The process — during which local elections officials run ballots through scanners in batches — must finish by the end of the day Nov. 25. The counts will be held in public meetings requiring 48-hour notice. Each tabulator will be assigned a two-member bipartisan team to oversee the recount. Some counties will stream the recounts online.