RALEIGH — The outcomes of elections for North Carolina’s top lawyer and top judge likely won’t be settled for at least several more days as absentee, provisional ballots are scrutinized statewide.
In the race for attorney general, incumbent Democrat Josh Stein faced Republican challenger Jim O’Neill, the Forsyth County district attorney. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley faced challenger Paul Newby, who is currently an associate justice.
Both races are too early to call, since as many as 116,000 mail-in absentee ballots sent to voters haven’t been returned but can be counted if received by county elections offices by Nov. 12. The N.C. State Board of Elections announced on Thursday that roughly 41,000 provisional ballots cast on Election Day also will be examined by county boards. Ballots cast by qualified voters will be added to county tabulations late next week.
Once all ballots are counted and confirmed by county boards, statewide candidates can seek a recount should they trail by 10,000 votes or fewer.
In the attorney general’s race, Stein said he believes he will win a second four-year term.
“We will wait to make sure all the votes are counted — that’s the way a democracy works,” Stein said on election night. “But given where we are, I am exceptionally confident in the result.”
O’Neill told reporters on Wednesday that every person who turned in a ballot or mailed one by Tuesday’s deadline “deserves an opportunity to have their voice and their opinion heard.”
“We believe there’s a lot more to the race right now and we’re not going to know until the next week or so how things are really going to shake out,” he said in a video call.
Stein, a former state senator and staffer for former Democratic Sen. John Edwards, was a prolific fundraiser in the campaign, collecting $5.2 million in the third quarter alone compared to $329,000 by O’Neill. Both candidates benefited from outside groups sending mailers to voters.
The campaign’s largest controversy came when Stein ran a television commercial featuring a woman who said O’Neill mishandled sexual assault test kits in Forsyth County. O’Neill said the ad was bogus because police agencies, not prosecutors, are responsible for testing. He filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections against Stein, accusing him of breaking a law about false campaign ads. O’Neill said Wednesday that he had not yet heard back from the board. He said he is also considering an N.C. State Bar complaint.
Stein “had to resort to running a false and malicious ad against me in order for him to maintain his political power,” O’Neill said Wednesday. Stein’s campaign has defended the commercial and highlighted what it says have been Stein’s efforts to reduce backlogs of untested kits. O’Neill’s “allegations are as childish as they are false,” campaign manager Eric Stern said.
The state’s two previous attorneys general were elected governor: Democrats Mike Easley and current Gov. Roy Cooper.