The North Carolina state elections board approved Gov. Pat McCrory's appeal to recount the votes in Durham County, giving a glimmer of hope to his last-ditch attempt to win reelection.
McCrory, a Republican, had claimed that inaccurate ballot machines prevented a proper tally of 90,000 early votes in Durham County, a liberal hotbed that swung the race to Democrat Roy Cooper at the eleventh hour on the night of the election.
Members of the state board said there was sufficient doubt in the outcome to justify recounting the results there, and overturned a November 18 decision by the Durham County elections board that rejected McCrory's request for a recount.
The state board, consisting of three Republicans and two Democrats, voted 3-2 along party lines to authorize the recount.
"It’s necessary that the public have faith and confidence in the system," James Baker, a Republican board member, said at the hearing on Wednesday. "Let’s get it all out in the open."
The decision is good news for McCrory, who is facing calls to concede from opponents, including Cooper himself. His initial Election-Day deficit of about 4,500 votes has mushroomed to more than 10,000 as absentee and provisional ballots are tallied.
Republicans immediately raised questions about the 90,000 votes, which were registered shortly before midnight on November 8, apparently snatching a close victory away from McCrory.
Since Election Day, McCrory has lodged challenges of voter fraud across the state, some of which were dropped due to a lack of evidence. The challenges have prevented some of North Carolina's 100 counties from reporting official election results.
McCrory filed for a statewide recount last week, but his final deficit must be within 10,000 votes of Cooper for it to happen, according to state law. The Republican said he wouldn't seek the statewide recount if he won his Durham County appeal.
Mike Theiler/ReutersOn Wednesday, Cooper's attorney Kevin Hamilton argued that McCrory's team had failed to provide "substantial evidence" of irregularity with the machines in Durham County, as state law requires. Board member Maja Kricker, a Democrat, agreed.
"If we don’t have an irregularity, we’re really going to simply say, 'Well, people have questions, so we’re going to recount," Kricker said at the hearing. "How many more questions are going to be raised? In how many other elections is this going to be raised?'"
"This sets a precedent. And I don't think it's a precedent we should set."
In a statement, Cooper campaign manager Trey Nix said, "It is wrong that Governor McCrory continues to waste taxpayer money with false accusations and attempts to delay and that the Republican controlled Board of Elections did not follow the law."
Nix said the Cooper campaign is "confident" the recount "will confirm Roy Cooper's election as Governor of North Carolina."
The machine recount should take about eight hours, election officials said, meaning North Carolinians could learn the result of the election by the end of the week.
The contest between McCrory and Cooper was the closest of any gubernatorial election this year and will be the last in the country to be settled. If McCrory loses, he'll have the unfortunate distinction of being the only governor nationwide this year — and the first in North Carolina's history — to lose in a reelection bid.