Close Race For NC Chief Justice Likely Headed To Recount

Nov 13, 2020

Current Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley and challenger Paul Newby
Credit Courtesy North Carolina Judicial Branch

The election to lead North Carolina's judicial branch was likely headed for a recount after county tallies reported Friday showed an extremely close race between current state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and challenger Paul Newby.

The canvassed results from nearly all counties show the Democrat Beasley and Newby — a Republican and current senior associate justice — neck and neck after nearly 5.4 million votes cast in the race were counted.

After election night, Newby had roughly 3,700 more votes than Beasley, a Democrat appointed in 2019 by Gov. Roy Cooper as the first Black female chief justice in the state.

But that lead narrowed as mail-in ballots arriving close to or after Election Day and qualifying provisional ballots cast on Election Day were counted.

Beasley overtook Newby in the tally on Thursday evening, but the lead was exchanged multiple times Friday as most counties uploaded their totals to state election board computers.

State law allows for the trailing candidate in a statewide race to seek a machine recount — basically running ballots again through tabulator machines — when the margin is 10,000 votes or less. The recount would be completed before the state board completes its canvass and certifies results on Nov. 24.

In another close race, Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein looked to avoid a runoff with Republican Jim O’Neill, the current Forsyth County district attorney. Stein was ahead by about 14,000 votes as of late Friday afternoon.

County canvasses resulted in winners for several other races considered too early to call while outstanding ballots were reviewed and more than 51,000 were counted.

The Associated Press on Friday called President Donald Trump as the winner of the state’s 15 electoral votes over Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who is already the president-elect. The AP concluded there were not enough outstanding ballots Friday afternoon remaining to be counted that would allow Biden to overtake Trump’s lead of nearly 74,000 votes.

In a race for Supreme Court associate justice, Republican Phil Berger Jr. defeated Democrat Lucy Inman. Berger was ahead by 71,000 votes as of Friday afternoon over Inman, who conceded the race to Berger on Thursday.

Berger, the son of Senate leader Phil Berger, will serve in the associate justice seat currently held by Newby. Both Berger and Inman are Court of Appeals judges. Inman still has two years in her Court of Appeals term. Berger's elevation means that Cooper will appoint a replacement for Berger's Court of Appeals seat to serve through 2022.

Berger's victory marks the second Republican election win on the state's highest court this year. Tamara Barringer already defeated incumbent Justice Mark Davis. Democrats will hold four or five seats on the seven-member court, depending on the chief justice outcome.

Results in three outstanding state House races also mean two incumbents won't return to Raleigh in January.

GOP Reps. Stephen Ross of Alamance County and Perrin Jones of Pitt County narrowly lost their seats to Democrats. Ricky Hurtado edged the four-term legislator Ross and Brian Farkas defeated Jones, who was in his first term. Republican Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County survived a challenge from Democrat Frances Jackson.

In the lone outstanding state Senate race, first-term Sen. Harper Peterson of New Hanover County conceded late Friday to Republican Michael Lee. Totals on Friday showed Lee slightly ahead of Peterson. Lee held the seat in 2018 when Peterson, a Democrat, beat him.

Republicans already had preserved their House and Senate majorities for another two years on election night. Friday's additional called races mean Republicans will hold 69 of the 120 House seats — compared to 65 during the current session. With a Lee victory, the GOP would hold 28 of the 50 Senate seats. Republicans currently hold 29 seats.