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Editorial: Avoid undue election panic

As a swing state, North Carolina typically gets a sizable share of the political attention during presidential elections.

Candidates criss-cross the state, holding rallies in an attempt to fire up their loyal supporters. Political ads, seemingly always negative, blanket TV airwaves. At the end, it’s nice when the fervor of the political campaign comes to a halt.

That hasn’t been the case nationwide this year, but its decisive victories at the top of the ticket and that vote tallies haven’t changed much mean North Carolina has been absent from the continued national discord and allegations of fraud.

If there’s any post-election fervor to come in North Carolina, it will happen late this week and next. Absentee by mail ballots postmarked by Election Day have until Thursday — a date OK’d by the U.S. Supreme Court — to arrive. Local boards of elections are scheduled to certify their final totals this week, and the state’s canvass will come in two weeks — Nov. 24

Vote tallies, though, seem unlikely to change or throw final results into turmoil.

Unofficial results put President Donald Trump ahead by more than 75,000 votes, Sen. Thom Tillis ahead by an event larger margin and Gov. Roy Cooper by a bigger tally than the president or senator. Remaining absentee ballots would have to break for Democrats Joe Biden and Cal Cunningham in an extraordinarily lopsided way for either to turn defeat into a victory.

Meanwhile, because the state allows voters who request and do not return an absentee ballot to cast a vote in-person, the total number of remaining ballots is unclear.

So far, about 30,000 absentee ballots have arrived at various county boards of elections since Election Day and there are an additional 41,000 provisional ballots, which are cast when there’s trouble with someone’s registration. Only a portion of them will end up counting.

Whatever happens, North Carolinians, including voters in Rowan County, must have confidence that only legal votes will be counted and that the state will take action when bad actors are found. State and federal politicians who represent our area can help with this by projecting confidence that election officials will do the right thing when confronted with problems.

Among other things, the N.C. Board of Elections randomly selects precincts for post-election audits and county boards of elections review individual absentee ballots and envelopes to ensure legal compliance. The state also has a dedicated team of investigators who examine credible allegations of fraud. Fraudulently completing a ballot is a crime.

Fraud does occur in elections, but it rarely changes results.

Importantly, North Carolina has proven ready to spring into action when credible evidence of fraud exists, with the most recent example being a ballot-harvesting scheme in the 9th Congressional District elections in 2018. The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted not to certify the results and eventually called for a new election, with the man accusing of running the scheme facing federal crimes.

As they’ve already done, it’s fine for our area’s representatives in Congress, Reps. Ted Budd, R-13, and Richard Hudson, R-8, whose district will no longer include Rowan in 2021, to say things like “count every legal vote” and encourage legal processes to play out. But their ultimate duty is to represent the people of their districts — the 8th and 13th.

Because neither has expressed doubts about election results in their own districts, both also should reassure the people they represent they’re confident state and local election officials will act appropriately when faced with accusations of fraud.

With political divisions only growing deeper, it’s critical to avoid undue political panic.

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