A recount is likely in the race for N.C. House of Representatives between two well-known and prominent Waynesville Democrats, Danny Davis and Joe Sam Queen. The race came down to the wire on election night last week, with Queen emerging as the top vote-getter by a mere 11 votes.
Results on election night are considered “unofficial” for another week, however, until election workers have a chance to weed through a few dozen provisional ballots and late absentees and determine if any should be counted.
Those provisional and late absentees were processed Tuesday but failed to change the outcome of the race.
Davis picked up an additional 13 votes, while Queen picked up an additional 19 votes — so Queen actually widened his margin of victory from 11 votes to 17.
Queen and Davis were vying for the N.C. House seat currently held by retiring Rep. Phil Haire, D- Sylva. The seat represents Jackson, Swain and the greater Waynesville and Lake Junaluska area of Haywood County. The winner in the Democratic primary will face the Republican opponent Mike Clampitt from Swain County come November.
Given how close the race is, Davis said he will likely call for a recount. Under state election law, any candidate can request a recount in any race. The state election board then decides whether one is warranted.
If a race is within 1 percent, however, the state is obligated to conduct a recount if the runner-up requests it.
“There is a reason the state has a mandatory recount if it is less than 1 percent,” Davis said, explaining why he would most likely ask for a recount.
Davis spent 26 years as a District Court judge in the seven western counties. Queen, an architect with a side business managing a vast inventory of rental property, has served six years in Raleigh as a state senator.
Both candidates were holding their breath in the days following last week’s election, curious whether some 115 provisional ballots and a handful of late absentee ballots would alter the outcome of the race.
Provisional ballots are cast on Election Day when poll workers can’t find a voter’s name on the roster of registered voters. They are given a provisional ballot, which is then set aside in a special stack until election workers have a chance to research whether the ballot should be counted.
“Every voter has the right to vote. They are given a provisional and if it is cleared they count. If not, they don’t,” said Joan Weeks, director of the Swain County Board of Elections.
There are several reasons why someone’s name might not show up on the roster at the polls. Perhaps they registered to vote under their maiden name, but give poll workers their married name. Perhaps they thought they registered at some point but in fact had not.
Often, they registered to vote in another county and didn’t realize they have to re-register to vote when they move.
This is particularly common in Jackson County, where college students at Western Carolina University registered in their hometown but show up at the polls on Election Day thinking they can vote in Jackson.
Election workers across the state hold a “canvas” the week after the election, where they go through all the provisional ballots and decide which, if any, are legitimate.
Ultimately, the majority don’t count.
“Legally you can’t say ‘No you can’t vote,’ but in the end most of them are not going to count,” Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, director of the Jackson County Election Board, said.
But there are a few instances where a voter has indeed registered yet doesn’t show up in the official roster at the polls.
Sometimes, people will register to vote at the Division of Motor Vehicles when getting a driver’s license. The DMV then transmits the voter registration to the appropriate county election board. Occasionally, it gets sent to the wrong county or something simply goes wrong with the transfer.
“There are times, albeit rare, when you put a batch of things in the scanner and somebody at DMV had syrup on their hands and two of them stick together and one of them doesn’t scan,” said Robert Inman, director of the Haywood County Election Board.
As for the majority of provisional ballots that never get counted, how that person voted will never be known. Election workers first verify whether the ballot is eligible, and only then is the ballot opened and counted. Whether those not counted could have changed the outcome of the election remains a mystery.
“This is not five card draw where you have to show your hand,” Inman said.