The N.C. State Board of Elections anticipates that results reported by the end of election night on Tuesday will include 97 percent or more of all ballots cast in North Carolina in the 2020 general election, said board spokesman Patrick Gannon.

Gannon said that as always, the remaining ballots, including provisional ballots and absentee by-mail ballots that arrive after Election Day, will be counted and added to the totals during the post-election canvass period.

As they become available after all polls close Tuesday night, unofficial election results will be posted on the state Election Results Dashboard.

“Please remember that all results reported on election night are unofficial. We will post results as quickly as possible, but our primary objective will be accuracy more than speed,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

Gannon said that if all goes as expected, the following unofficial results will be reported to the public on election night through the Election Results Dashboard:

• all in-person one-stop early votes;

• all by-mail absentee votes received by the county boards of elections by 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2;

• all Election Day votes, excluding provisional ballots, which must be researched post-election to determine voter eligibility.

He said the State Board of Elections will begin posting results publicly after polls close statewide at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Gannon said the state board may extend voting hours at a polling place if polls are delayed in opening for more than 15 minutes or are interrupted for more than 15 minutes after opening. Any polling extension may not be longer than the delay in voting. No results will be posted until all polls are closed. 

The state board will issue a notice if it meets on Election Day to consider extensions of polling hours. The public will be able to listen to the meeting remotely.

Gannon provided an estimated timeline of the expected reporting of unofficial results to the Election Results Dashboard,  but said reporting times will vary by county. Various factors can affect the timing. Results will be updated every few minutes as they come in from the counties:

• 7:30 p.m.: Polls close;

• 7:30-9 p.m.: Counties report results of in-person, one-stop early voting and absentee by-mail ballots received by 5 p.m. Monday, November 2.

• 7:30-9:30 p.m.: Precinct officials hand-deliver Election Day results to county boards of elections offices;

• 8:30 p.m.-midnight: Election Day precinct results are reported; reporting continues until all Election Day results are posted.

After election night

Gannon said elections are always far from over on election night. In the days that follow, the county boards of elections count the remaining ballots, research the eligibility of each provisional ballot, conduct a series of post-election audits, and conduct any necessary recounts. The State Board conducts additional audits to ensure a fair and accurate count.

These post-election processes culminate in the final certification of results, also called canvass.

Each county board of elections will hold its canvass meeting at 11 a.m. Nov. 13. The State Board of Elections will meet Nov. 24 to certify the election.

For more information about N.C. election audits and canvass, see the Post-Elections Procedures and Audits webpage.

Mail-in absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will be accepted by county boards of elections until 5 p.m. Nov. 12. Overseas and military absentee ballots also are accepted through Nov. 12. These ballots will be added to the unofficial results during the canvass process.

Provisional ballot meetings. Provisional ballots are cast when an individual’s name does not appear on the poll book or other questions arise about that person’s eligibility to vote or to vote a particular ballot.

Each county board of elections meets before certifying the results to make decisions on provisional applications submitted by voters. If the board determines that the voter is eligible, the provisional ballot is counted. If the voter is eligible for some contests on the ballot but not others, the eligible contests will be counted. These ballots will be added to the unofficial results during the canvass process.

Every county conducts a sample hand-to-eye count of ballots in randomly selected precincts and one-stop locations to confirm results tabulated by machine. Counties must conduct their hand-to-eye counts in public.

County boards of elections will certify their results at public meetings held at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 13. The county board certifies contests and referenda within the county boundaries.

Any mandatory recounts would be conducted by county boards of elections after the county canvass and before the state canvass. For statewide contests, the vote difference must be 10,000 votes or fewer for a candidate who is the runner-up to demand a recount.

For non-statewide contests, the difference between the candidates must be 1% or less of the total votes cast in the contest. The recount demand must be in writing and received by the State Board of Elections no later than noon on Tuesday, Nov. 17. If a recount is demanded, the State Board of Elections office would issue a schedule, and the counties would conduct recounts individually during open meetings.

For contests under jurisdiction of county boards of elections, a demand for recount must be made in writing to the county board of elections by 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16.

The State Board of Elections will certify statewide results for all federal, statewide, multi-district and judicial contests at a public meeting held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24. Results in each contest are not considered official until certified by the state board. After the state canvass, the board of elections with jurisdiction over each contest will issue a certificate of election to the prevailing candidate.

Election security

Under state law, all voting systems used in North Carolina must use paper ballots, producing a paper trail that can be recounted and audited. Every voter in all 100 counties will cast a paper ballot.

Election night results are always unofficial. In the days that follow the election, election officials will ensure every eligible ballot is counted. They will audit and certify the results. This is a regular process after each election.

In North Carolina, about 2,660 polling places will be open on Election Day and about 1 million voters are expected to cast ballots on Nov. 3.

Unexpected issues arise during every election, such as power outages, voting equipment malfunctions, tabulator or printer jams and long lines at some voting places. These are not indications of malicious activity, and processes are in place to respond to each of these scenarios, said Gannon.

Because of COVID-19, North Carolinians are voting by mail in record numbers this year. All ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted.

Because of the surge in by-mail voting, more ballots than usual will be counted after Election Day. Gannon said this means more North Carolinians will be able to vote successfully, despite the pandemic.

He said every polling place is staffed with bipartisan, trained officials from the local community who take an oath to uphold state elections laws and work together to ensure election security. Bipartisan state and county boards of elections oversee all aspects of elections in North Carolina.

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