Following the completion of a statewide machine recount of ballots, the race for state Supreme Court Chief Justice is separated by just 401 votes out of almost 5.4 million ballots cast.
Under state election law, the trailing candidate (incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley) was entitled to request a manual recount of a randomly selected 3% sample of the voting sites in each county, and she did so late last week. That sample recount is scheduled to begin this week. If that partial recount indicates enough vote movement to suggest that the statewide result could change if a full recount is conducted, then there will be a full statewide manual recount.
Manual (“hand-eye”) recounts can identify issues not seen by machine tabulation. Examples include marks made by voters which are sufficient to indicate intent to the human eye, but which are not picked up by the optical scanner machine.
The Chief Justice contest is believed to be the closest statewide margin of victory in North Carolina history. It remains a target of every possible review in part also because it is so consequential to state policy. By law, the Chief Justice has substantial powers over the administration of the state judicial system, and many voting rights and environmental cases may wind their way to the highest court. The balance of pro-environment, pro-democracy justices could tip in the 2022 election, regardless of the outcome of this race.