What, exactly, is Governor McCrory's end game?
The final count on election night put the governor's challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper, around five thousand votes ahead, enough to trigger a recount. But a recount wasn't good enough. The McCrory campaign doubled down, filing election protests in fifty-two counties—including Wake, Durham, and Orange—alleging voter fraud and other irregularities. McCrory also seized on a weird case in Bladen County involving the county's water and soil conservation district supervisor race to claim rampant Democratic voter fraud.
Several of those protests—filed with county boards that are, per state law, all run by Republicans—have already been denied, including in the three Triangle counties. In Wake, the governor's team produced a spreadsheet of people who "might" have voted in multiple states, put together from a "commercial database." That complaint was rejected due to lack of evidence. Similarly, the Durham County board unanimously rejected the McCrory campaign's request to recount more than ninety-four thousand ballots that it claimed were tainted by malfeasance. While there was a software glitch, the board ruled that there was no evidence of tampering or data corruption.
The McCrory campaign appealed those denials, which set the stage for a disorganized, hastily arranged State Board of Elections meeting that took place via teleconference on Sunday afternoon. At one point, apropos of nothing, executive director Kim Strach mentioned that the state board's IT director had read a news report saying that felons had possibly voted and took it upon himself to search the state board's database. There he supposedly found 339 convicted felons who voted during early and absentee voting.
In the end, the board denied the governor's request to immediately assume jurisdiction of all of the election complaints. Instead, at a meeting Tuesday, the board was set to determine guidelines for how counties should handle voter fraud allegations and decide whether it can throw out the votes of ineligible people. (That meeting was still ongoing as the INDY went to press Tuesday. Check indyweek.com for updates.)
Also on Tuesday, the McCrory-allied Civitas Institute filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate 97,753 ballots of voters who took advantage of same-day registration, which a federal court restored earlier this year after the legislature eliminated it. According to the lawsuit, the State Board of Elections will not be able to verify those voters until after it certifies the election.
All the while, Cooper's lead has widened. On Tuesday morning, the Cooper campaign claimed an 8,569-vote lead. Cooper released a video Sunday declaring victory; on Monday he rolled out his transition website. Newspapers and prominent Democrats demanded that McCrory concede.
The governor has so far declined: "Why is Roy Cooper so insistent on circumventing the electoral process and counting the votes of dead people and felons? It may be because he needs those fraudulent votes to count in order to win," McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement.
Which again raises the question: What's the governor's end game?
One possibility—thanks to a quirk of the state constitution—is that, if the General Assembly determines that the election is "contested," Republican lawmakers will be able to intervene and decide the result. Of course, doing so would require the expenditure of an enormous amount of political capital, and Cooper would no doubt challenge this chicanery in federal court. But this could be the only play McCrory has left.
As Rob Schofield, director of research at N.C. Policy Watch, wrote last week: "The point of these complaints is not to find actual votes for McCrory. ... The objective, as it has been for several days now, is to win a PR battle by dragging things out and sowing confusion."
Even if McCrory's last-ditch effort doesn't work, it sets a dangerous precedent. As Duke political scientist Pablo Beramendi noted on Twitter Tuesday morning: "Core principles of democracy at stake in NC. ... Without loser's consent, democracy dies."