Vote totals in Forsyth County are sure to rise as county election officials process some 2,500 provisional and absentee ballots they have in hand so far from the 2022 midterm elections.
While counting that number of ballots is unlikely to change any election results in Forsyth County, an unknown number of additional absentee ballots could still arrive in the mail in the coming days, and will be accepted by Monday as long as they were postmarked by election day.
“At this point, there is no possible recount,” said Tim Tsujii, the elections director in Forsyth County. But whether that remains true, he said, depends on how many absentees come in “and whether they apply to a (particular) contest,” Tsujii said.
Tsujii said Forsyth County has so far received 1,315 absentee ballots to count next week, and has another 1,260 provisional ballots that the local board of elections must make a ruling on.
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The election day margin between incumbent Republican District Attorney Jim O’Neill in his victory over Democratic challenger Denise Hartsfield was 3,320 votes out of some 131,000 ballots cast, according to complete but unofficial returns.
In the other close contest, Republican Jeff Zenger edged out his Democratic challenger Carla Catalan Day by only 2,008 votes out of some 38,000 votes cast in N.C. House District 74.
Hartsfield and Day conceded their races on election night and offered no suggestion that absentees and provisionals could change the outcome.
A provisional ballot is one cast by a voter whose qualification to vote is in question, or if a question arises about the voter’s eligibility to vote in a given election or with a specific ballot style.
In those cases, precinct workers accept the ballot and put it in a special envelope, and the elections board makes a ruling between election day and the official canvass on whether to count the ballot.
The catch for any candidate hoping to pick up votes from either absentee or provisional ballots is that counting them rarely changes the outcome.
For starters, a large number of provisional ballots will be tossed because the elections board will rule them invalid. In 2020, for instance, only 55% of the provisionals received that fall were counted partially or in full.
And not all absentee ballots that are requested are sent back in to the elections board. State data shows Forsyth County received almost 12,800 requests for absentee ballots for the general election in 2022, with some 7,700 absentees counted as of election day. While that might appear to leave up to 4,000 ballots outstanding, its is also worth knowing that in 2020, a little fewer than two-thirds of the absentee ballots sent out were ever returned.
While the contest in N.C. House 74 was settled by a smaller margin than the one in the district attorney’s contest, House 74 includes only 22% of the county’s population. Absentee and provisional votes, however, will be scattered across the county.
In 2018, David Singletary, one of five Republicans seeking four school board nominations in the District 2 primary that year, found himself out of the running on election day by 51 votes. When absentee and provisional ballots were included, his margin dropped to 49. A machine recount left Singletary behind Leah Crowley by 43 votes.
Absentee and provisional ballots “have the potential to change the results, so they do need to be considered,” Singletary said Thursday, looking back on the 2018 contest. “But traditionally it does not change a lot.”
Meanwhile, election officials will be busy on Friday doing hand-eye recounts of two precincts, as part of the procedures election officials across the state follow to ensure the accuracy of the election. Recounts will be done at the elections office of the ballots from Precinct 902, which votes at Brunson Elementary School, and Precinct 906, which votes at Mount Tabor High School.
The precincts are chosen randomly by the state.
The election canvass, which certifies the election results, takes place next Friday.