North Carolina’s audit law requires the State Board of Elections to provide rules and standards for a hand-to-eye count of a statewide ballot item (if one exists) in every county. The statute requires that the size of the audit sample be chosen after consultation with a statistician to ensure a “statistically significant result” for the given election. The practice has been to randomly select two precincts or batches (see “Comprehensiveness” below) in each county. The audit results are binding upon the official election results and may lead to a full manual recount.
Unless otherwise specified, statutory references are to N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §163-182.1.
Voting Systems Used
Most North Carolina counties primarily use hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners in polling places, with ballot marking devices for accessibility; the remaining counties field ballot marking devices for all polling place voters. For the most up to date information please visit Verified Voting’s Verifier.
Visit the Voting Equipment Database for an explanation of the types of voting equipment used.
By statute, the sample “shall be of one or more full precincts, full counts of mailed absentee ballots, full counts of one or more one-stop early voting sites, or a combination.” In practice, all three of these kinds of ballots have been included in the sample. The law exempts ballots that are hand counted.
The statute specifies: “The size of the sample of each category shall be chosen to produce a statistically significant result and shall be chosen after consultation with a statistician.” In recent practice through 2018, generally all absentee ballots in a county are treated as one batch (a very large “precinct”), as are all ballots from a one-stop early voting site. The State Board then has randomly selected two precincts or batches in each county, regardless of county size or batch size and type. Thus, the sample size in each category depends on the random selection itself, and absentee and one-stop ballots are not audited in most counties.
North Carolina regulations and statutes do not require audits to be public; however, audits are in practice open to the public. The random selection of precincts/batches for any county is done publicly after the initial count of election returns for that county is publicly released or twenty-four (24) hours after the polls close on election day, whichever is earlier.
Beginning in 2020, a new section §163-182.12A requires the State Board to produce a report that summarizes the audit, “including the rationale for and the findings of the audit,” to two legislative committees within ten business days after the audit is completed.
Audit Counting Method
The audit uses “hand-to-eye” manual counts.
Type of Audit Units
By statute, the random sample consists of “one or more full precincts, full counts of mailed absentee ballots, full counts of one or more one stop early voting sites, or a combination.” Counties determine whether and how to divide votes from an early voting site, and absentee votes, into smaller full counts.
Contests and Issues Audited
Only one statewide ballot item is audited per county; in a presidential election, the presidential contest is the item audited. If there is no statewide or presidential ballot item, the State Board is required to “provide a process for selecting district or local ballot items to adequately sample the electorate.”
The audit law states that “In the event of a material discrepancy between the electronic or mechanical count and a hand-to-eye count, the hand-to-eye count shall control, except where paper ballots or records have been lost or destroyed or where there is another reasonable basis to conclude that the hand-to-eye count is not the true count. If the discrepancy between the hand-to-eye count and the mechanical or electronic count is significant, a complete hand-to-eye count shall be conducted.” This language appears to give the State Board discretion to order a full hand count either in specific counties, or statewide, based on the audit results.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website.
The random selection of precincts for a given county must be done “after the initial count of election returns for that county is publicly released or twenty-four (24) hours after the polls close on election day, whichever is earlier.” No timeline is provided for completion of the audit. However, because statute explicitly provides for a binding full hand count, we categorize the audit as concluding before results are finalized.
Binding on Official Outcomes
The results of the audit are binding on official results, and a full hand-to-eye count is to be conducted if the audit finds a “significant” discrepancy (see also “Addressing Discrepancies”).
Oversight and Conduct
The State Board of Elections is responsible both for overseeing the development of procedures for audits, including the method by which the random sample is to be selected, and for choosing the random sample. The audit is then conducted by county election officials.
Official ballots must be promptly and securely transmitted from the voting place to the county Board of Elections. All materials must be transported with a signed chain of custody form. For more information, see also 8 NCAC 10B.0105.
Additional Targeted Samples
The statute does not provide for targeted samples.