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North Carolina Republicans seek data to resolve top races

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

North Carolina Republicans pressed state election officials on Friday to make public more information about the number of outstanding ballots from this week’s election that could be counted.

Nearly a dozen Election Day races in North Carolina, including those for president and U.S. Senate, remain too early to call because as many as 172,000 ballots have either yet to be counted or rejected, or could trickle in before next week’s deadline to receive mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day.

The actual number of ballots that will arrive is likely to be less, however, because many people who requested absentee ballots ended up voting on Election Day or perhaps didn’t vote at all. And past elections show a significant portion of the 41,000 provisional ballots cast on Tuesday will be rejected.

Election boards in all 100 counties are supposed to complete their full ballot counts by Nov. 13. State GOP leaders demanded that the State Board of Elections provide data as soon as possible from a tracking system linked to absentee ballot envelopes that could determine how many ballots were given to the U.S. Postal Service by Tuesday but have not been received.

“Disclosure of this data should enable media outlets to call the presidential and U.S. Senate races, among others, almost immediately,” the leaders of the House and Senate elections committees wrote to state elections executive director Karen Brinson Bell.

State elections board staff provided tracking details to legislators in computer files late Friday but cautioned it wouldn’t give them certainty.

The results from nearly 5.5 million votes cast as of late Friday show President Donald Trump leading Democratic nominee Joe Biden by about 76,500 votes and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis leading Democrat Cal Cunningham by 96,500 votes.

The post office “generally scans the barcode when they receive the ballot envelope, although this does not happen in every case,” board attorney Katelyn Love wrote. “Thus, it is not possible to determine the complete universe of outstanding ballots from the data.”

Included in the 172,000 potential ballots are about 99,000 absentee ballots that were requested but have not yet been returned. Some of those voters likely decided to vote in person on Election Day and so would not have mailed their ballots back.

The almost 41,000 provisional ballots cast statewide also must be processed. Counties must research who cast these ballots to determine if they are registered voters and if their choices will count.

There are also nearly 32,000 absentee ballots that have been accepted by counties, but not yet tallied since a cutoff for inclusion in the Election Night results.

Election boards in nine counties had scheduled meetings Friday to decide whether to accept 4,300 absentee ballots received by mail and add them to their election night tabulations. Other county boards will meet in the coming days.

State GOP Chairman Michael Whatley told reporters on Friday that Republicans recognize the formal counting process that state law requires takes time. But he said the release of more data on absentee ballots could bring finality to top races sooner, or allow trailing candidates in extremely close races to prepare to ask for recounts.

“We do not see anything in the provisional counts or in the absentee counts that gives us any heartburn,” Whatley said. “Our message is that Donald Trump has won North Carolina and that Thom Tillis has won North Carolina.”

The five-member state board is appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Three board members are Democrats.

Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew in Durham contributed to this report.

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