The 2020 election in North Carolina was destined to be dramatic, with races that would help decide the Presidency, control of the U.S. Senate and every major office in the state up for grabs. By the end of Election Day, however, the results had defied every poll, and surprised even the most experienced observers. Democratic hopes to flip one or both legislative chambers – buoyed by unprecedented fundraising and strong polling – were dashed as Republicans netted 4 seats in the State House and won 6 of 7 competitive races in the State Senate. While Democrats and outside groups spent hundreds of millions on legislative, statewide and Congressional elections, we will likely end much where we began, with voters having chosen the Republican candidates for President and U.S. Senate, a Democratic Governor and Attorney General, and a majority Republican Congressional delegation, General Assembly and Council of State.
Voter turnout for this election was at an all-time high, with over 5.49 million North Carolinians casting their ballot. Among registered voters, North Carolina saw 74.6% turn out to vote, an increase from 69% in 2016. Early voting made state history with more than 4.5 million North Carolinians casting their ballots prior to Election Day. With over 110,000 votes still left to be counted – enough to flip many of the high-profile races discussed below – the most expensive and one of the most consequential elections in North Carolina history is not quite over yet.
On Wednesday evening, the NC Board of Elections confirmed that 116,200 absentee by mail (ABM) ballots remained outstanding. According to the NCBOE, “the number of absentee ballots ultimately counted will be fewer… because some voters will not return their ballots and others voted in person on Election Day. There is no way to know how many of those voters voted on Election Day for at least several days as counties perform the post-election task of assigning voter history.”
The numbers (rounded by the NCBOE) by partisan affiliation:
A large portion of the ballots were requested by voters in the most populous counties in the state:
The NCBOE announced that “the 100 bipartisan county boards will hold meetings to count the remaining provisional and absentee ballots and add them to unofficial election results. Most of the meetings will be held on Thursday, November 12, or Friday, November 13, but some will be held this week or early next week. The final county canvass of results is November 13. The state canvass is November 24.” This means the outcome of some races decided by less than 116,200 votes on Election Night, may not be known for at least a week and a half from now.
President Donald Trump maintained a lead over Democrat Joe Biden in North Carolina, with strong support from rural and suburban counties. When all precincts had reported, President Trump led by 76,701 votes, 49.9% to 48.6%. Early votes historically have favored Democrats in North Carolina, but Trump took 50.2% of that vote and clearly carried the majority of the Election Day vote, as well. Biden received more absentee mail-in ballots by roughly 375,000.
Assuming all outstanding absentee by mail ballots are received, Biden would need to win roughly 83% of them to overtake Trump’s lead. Of the mail ballots received before Election Day, Biden won roughly 67%, making an eventual North Carolina win for Biden not impossible, but certainly unlikely.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is on track for six more years, after finishing the night leading Democrat opponent Cal Cunningham by 96,707 votes, 48.7% to 46.9%. This race was highly contested and seen as a very possible flip to a Democratic candidate. Cunningham ran an extremely well-funded campaign, raising $28.3 million in the third quarter alone, but questions arising about potential extramarital affairs in recent weeks was a hard hit to his campaign. Sen. Tillis has declared victory, while Cunningham has yet to concede, saying his campaign plans to allow the Board of Elections process “to be carried out, so that every voter can have their voice heard.”
As most polls predicted, Governor Cooper was re-elected to a second term. Gov. Cooper led with 51.5% of the vote compared to Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s 47.1% of the vote. Cooper had led in late polling by roughly 10 points, so while the result was not a surprise, his margin of victory was smaller than expected.
Republican Mark Robinson will be the next Lieutenant Governor after receiving 51.7% of the vote last night, compared to Democrat Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley’s 48.3%. Robinson will be the first African American to fill the seat and only the second African American to hold a position on the Council of State. Robinson is the first African American Republican to win a major seat since the 1800s.
Attorney General Josh Stein said on Election Night that he is confident he will retain his seat after leading 50.1% to 49.9% over his Republican opponent, Jim O’Neill. “Given our margin, I am confident about my reelection,” Stein said. “We’ll wait until all the votes are counted, that’s how democracy works.”
Democrats were expected to increase their share of representation on North Carolina’s 13-seat U.S. house delegation after redistricting created greater opportunities for flipped seats, but Democrats were not able to capitalize on that as much as expected. Democrats flipped two open U.S. House seats that they had been favored to win while Republicans defended two seats that had turned into competitive races, leaving the state's congressional delegation with an 8-5 split in favor of Republicans.
Democrat Beth Wood will remain state auditor, a position Wood has held since 2009. Wood led her opponent, Anthony “Tony” Street, 50.8%-49.1%.
COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE
Republican Steve Troxler will remain North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, a position he has held since 2005. Troxler led his opponent Jenna Wadsworth, 53.9%-46.1%.
COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE
Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey will remain in his role after winning his election against Wayne Goodwin, 51.8%-48.2%. Causey, a Republican, was the incumbent this year after beating Goodwin in 2016. Goodwin had held the position since 2009.
COMMISSIONER OF LABOR
Republican Rep. Josh Dobson led his opponent, Democrat Jessica Holmes, 50.9%-49.1%. Dobson is a four-term member of the N.C. House of Representatives representing Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Elaine Marshall will remain Secretary of State after 24 years in office. Marshall retained her seat with 51.1% of the vote, compared to businessman E.C. Sykes with 48.9%.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
Republican Catherine Truitt will become superintendent of public instruction after receiving 51.4% of the vote, as compared to Catherine Truitt’s 48.6%. The seat was open after one-term Superintendent Mark Johnson unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor.
Dale Folwell will remain treasurer after winning the election against Ronnie Chatterji with nearly 52.6% of the vote. Folwell first became the state treasurer in 2017, and is the first Republican to hold the position in 140 years.
Republican candidates led in tight races for three of the contested seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court and five of the seats on the Court of Appeals. Judge Paul Newby led Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by less than 3,000 votes in the race for the top seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, with 50.0% to 49.9%. This is the most likely result to be changed by the absentee by mail ballots that remain outstanding.
Democrats were hopeful this election after court-ordered redistricting made many districts more attainable for Democrats, but after a hard fight to flip one, if not two, it appears the balance of power will remain in favor of Republicans in both chambers. Republicans won all but one of the 7 Senate races considered competitive – including all 3 of the ones Democrats most hoped to flip and poured the most money into – and took 6 seats held by Democrats in the House, while losing just 2 of the many races they were defending.
If remaining absentee ballots don’t change the outcome of any races, Democrats will have a net gain of one Senate seat, leaving the Senate with 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. Republicans are set to add four seats to their House majority, leaving the House with 69 Republicans and 51 Democrats. Both chambers are still short of a veto-proof supermajority. Here is a breakdown of notable General Assembly races:
Rep. Scott Brewer (D) failed to hold on to his seat, losing to Ben Moss, 59.9% to 40.1%.
Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D) lost his seat to former Representative Mike Clampitt, 54.1% to 45.9%.
First-term Rep. Ray Russell (D) lost his seat to Ray Pickett, 53.1% to 46.9%.
Rep. Sydney Batch (D) lost her seat to Erin Pare, 50.1% to 46.8%.
Rep. Christy Clark (D) lost her seat to former Representative John Bradford III, 51.7% to 48.3%.
Rep. John Szoka (R) was able to hold on to his seat, defeating Frances Jackson, 50.9% to 49.0%.
Diane Wheatley (R) was able to win this seat over Kimberly Hardy, 51.9% to 48.2%. This was formerly Democrat Elmer Floyd’s seat, flipping the seat red.
Brian Farkas led Republican incumbent Rep. Perrin Jones to flip District 9’s seat blue, 51.1% to 48.9%.
Rep. Stephen Ross was unable to keep his seat, losing to Democrat Ricky Hurtado, 50.5% to 49.5%.
Rep. Chris Humphrey (R) held on to his seat against Virginia Cox-Daugherty, 54.7% to 45.3%.
Sen. Bob Steinburg (R) held on to his seat against Tess Judge, 55.3% to 44.7%.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R) held on to her seat against Terri LeGrand, 53.1% to 46.9%.
Sen. Harper Peterson (D) was unable to hold on to his seat, losing to Michael Lee, 50.6% to 49.4%.
Republican Amy S. Galey won this triad seat against J.D. Wooten, 52.5% to 47.5%.
Sen. Jim Perry (R) held on to his seat against Donna Lake, 55.3% to 44.7%.
Rep. Lisa Stone Barnes (R) will be switching chambers after defeating Allen Wellons for this open Senate seat, 55.1% to 44.9%.
Sen. Kirk DeViere (D) was able to hold on to his seat against former Senator Wesley Meredith, 51.5% to 48.5.
2020 Final Legislative Update
Frankly, I have run out of words to describe what is happening in our country and our state – unprecedented, extraordinary, once in a lifetime, shocking, unbelievable. Read the full report
September 4, 2020 Legislative Update
The General Assembly dealt with its work quickly this week, passing the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 with bipartisan support and sending it to Governor Cooper. Read the full report
Alarm Systems Licensing Board Emergency Rule Amendment
An Emergency rule amendment was adopted by the Alarm Systems Licensing Board at its May 21, 2020 meeting to address the concerns of license applicants in light of the various Executive Orders issued by the Governor and certain counties in response to the current COVID-19 Crisis. The intent is to ease a restriction on applications for licensure and is effective June 9, 2020.
In order to make this amendment a permanent change to its administrative rules the Board is simultaneously starting the Temporary rulemaking process. In keeping with that statutory procedure, there is a 15-day Public Comment period which begins runs through June 30 , 2020. You may contact Director Paul Sherwin at the Board’s office with any written public comment. The Board will adopt this rule amendment as a Temporary rule at its July 16, 2020 Board meeting. Read the full report
June 15, 2020 Legislative Update
The General Assembly continues to be in full swing as legislators work mainly to address pandemic-related needs of North Carolinians, as well as various other budget matters. Read the full report
June 10, 2020 Legislative Update
Legislators were faced with the stark reality of the budget hole that they are looking at as a result of COVID-19 with the revised consensus revenue forecast, which predicted a total net drop in expected collections of $5 billion for the current budget biennium. Read the full report
June 4, 2020 Legislative Update
The General Assembly returned last week to continue its business for the 2020 short session. Read the full report
May 29, 2020 Legislative Update
The General Assembly has re-convened for the short session to continue to address needs of North Carolinians as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and to consider various other bills, as well as the state’s budget. Leaders have indicated that they hope to complete their business within four to six weeks, but recognize that this is subject to change due to the uncertain nature of the pandemic and the uncertainty around federal coronavirus funding. Read the full report
May 6, 2020 Legislative Update
Saturday, May 2, 2020, the General Assembly passed two COVID-19 relief bills. Senate Bill 704 addresses policy changes related to the pandemic, and House Bill 1043 addresses funding. The new laws became effective immediately. The whole process was marked with bi-partisan cooperation which we have not seen in Raleigh in many years. Read the full report
May 1, 2020 Legislative Update
The North Carolina General Assembly arrived (some virtually) in Raleigh on Tuesday the 28th. The House had held virtual working group meetings for a month and the legislation filed on Monday reflected the discussions and drafts that were created in those groups. The mystery was on the Senate side where no public meetings or real information had been provided about how they intended to address the session. Now we know that Senators have been working behind the scenes in a bipartisan way so that by the next day their bill was unanimously approved. Read the full report
April 28, 2020 Legislative Update
The General Assembly is working on a COVID response and is expected to convene for remote committee work on April 28 with voting to begin on April 30. After a package is passed, this session is expected to adjourn until July or August for the traditional "short" session when the impact on a budget will be more clear. Read the full report