Let's Talk North Carolina Elections

Republicans make gains but Cooper victory reaffirms North Carolina as a purple state

Part of the Duke in North Carolina Series
North Carolina state county map

Although many statewide races in North Carolina were called on Election Night, the state awaits final results from the presidential election and several other tight races.

North Carolinians turned out to vote in unprecedented numbers this election season. With more than 7.3 million eligible voters in North Carolina, nearly 4.5 million -- around 62 percent -- cast their vote before Election Day either at one-stop early voting sites or via mail-in ballot. On Election Day, around 900,000 votes were cast, for a final total of close to 5.5 million votes. It is expected that the state will beat voter turnout records, with nearly 75 percent of eligible voters turning out in 2020 -- an increase from 2016 when around 69 percent voted.

Some tight races in North Carolina could be subject to a recount or could shift once outstanding mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. Any races that are within a 1 percent margin are eligible for a recount. North Carolina currently has more than 117,000 outstanding absentee ballots that were requested but have not yet been received or counted. However, the actual number of ballots that were submitted and are eligible for counting is not clear.

The Election Results Dashboard from the N.C. State Board of Elections has the most accurate and up-to-date election results for the state. County election boards will certify election results on Nov. 13, and the N.C. State Board of Elections will certify the entire election on Nov. 24.

Republicans performed much better than originally predicted in the North Carolina General Assembly, Council of State races, and judicial races. Here’s a look at some of the major races:


Council of State – A Purple State

Democratic incumbent Governor Roy Cooper, was re-elected to serve a second term beating his opponent, Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest. Republican Mark Robinson won the Lieutenant Governor’s race, becoming the first black Lieutenant Governor in North Carolina’s history. The race for Attorney General is still too close to call, although Democratic incumbent Josh Stein has a small lead that is likely to hold.

Republican Josh Dobson will be the next Commissioner of Labor, Republican Catherine Truitt will be the next Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Republican incumbent Mike Causey will continue as the Commissioner of Insurance. Democratic incumbent Beth Wood was re-elected as State Auditor, Democratic incumbent Elaine Marshall was re-elected as Secretary of State, and Republican incumbent Steve Troxler was re-elected as Commissioner of Agriculture.


“Most polls indicated that the Democrats would pick up several seats in the N.C. House, so the fact that Republicans ended up flipping more seats in their favor came as a significant surprise.”
-- Doug Heron

North Carolina General Assembly – Republicans Maintain Majority

There were many contested races in the North Carolina General Assembly this election cycle, with the expectation that Democrats could pick up more seats and potentially challenge the Republican majority in the N.C. House of Representatives and N.C. Senate. In the end, Republicans gained four seats in the N.C. House and now hold a 69-51 majority.

In the N.C. Senate, Democrats picked up one seat which gives Republicans a 28-22 majority. Although the House and Senate will maintain their Republican majorities, both chambers still lack the supermajority needed to easily override any vetoes from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

“Most polls indicated that the Democrats would pick up several seats in the N.C. House, so the fact that Republicans ended up flipping more seats in their favor came as a significant surprise,” said Doug Heron, associate vice president for Duke State Relations. “In the Senate, Democrats were able to pick up only one seat, while they were expecting to gain at least three seats. Their inability to do so is indicative of the rough night Democrats had in North Carolina.”

In Durham County, all incumbent Democratic members of the N.C. General Assembly won re-election, including Senators Mike Woodard and Natalie Murdock, and Representatives Vernetta Alston, Zack Hawkins, Marcia Morey and Robert Reives.”


North Carolina Supreme Court – Additional Gains by Republicans

Three seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court and five seats on the North Carolina Court of Appeals were on the ballot yesterday, with Republicans winning in all eight races. 

In the N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice race, Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby (R) leads incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D) by a narrow margin. Republicans Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer won their races for the N.C. Supreme Court, leaving a reduced 4-3 Democratic majority for the N.C. Supreme Court.


North Carolina Congressional Races – A Purple Delegation

In one of the most expensive Senate races in the country, incumbent Senator Thom Tillis (R) from North Carolina leads by a thin margin against Cal Cunningham (D), but the race has not officially been called. Several key Senate races across the country have also yet to be called, and it is unclear whether or not Democrats can gain control of the U.S. Senate.

In the U.S. House, Democrats are expected to maintain a majority and picked up two seats in North Carolina, shifting the makeup to eight Republicans and five Democrats. North Carolinians elected three new congressional members, including Deborah Ross (D), Madison Cawthorn (R), and Kathy Manning (D). Incumbents G.K. Butterfield (D), Greg Murphy (R), David Price (D), Virginia Foxx (R), David Rouzer (R), Richard Hudson (R), Dan Bishop (R), Patrick McHenry (R), Alma Adams (D) and Ted Budd (R) all won re-election.

As of Wednesday evening, the presidential race has yet to be called in North Carolina with President Donald Trump (R) holding an 80,000 vote lead on former Vice President Joe Biden (D).  It’s likely a final call won’t be made until the N.C. State Board of Elections completes counting of eligible mail-in ballots through the Nov. 12 deadline. If the late ballots turn the state toward Biden, it may also carry some down-ballot Democrats to victory in similarly tight races.


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