The current, undecided race for Governor in North Carolina may be a long, contentious process, but it has nothing on the 2004 race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Twelve years ago, Democrat June Atkinson, the incumbent State Superintendent was fighting off a challenge from Republican Bill Fletcher.
As election night came to a close, Atkinson had a lead of less than 8,500 votes after 3.3 million North Carolinians cast their ballots.
What followed was a process similar to the one we are currently seeing play out as Governor Pat McCrory fights to keep his position against Democrat challenger Roy Cooper.
After election night in 2004, Bill Fletcher challenged roughly 11,000 ballots, a total that could have easily tilted the race for Superintendent in his favor. Fletcher’s argument was that the State Board of Elections had violated the state constitution by allowing people to cast provisional ballots outside their assigned precinct.
Of course, the Democrat-controlled State Board of Elections rejected Fletcher’s appeal, upholding the ballots.
Fletcher continued his fight, appealing the decision to the courts.
The case made it’s way all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, as Atkinson fought back questioning the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in the matter, citing the state constitution that says all contested Council of State elections are to be decided by the General Assembly, which just so happened to be controlled by Atkinson’s friends in the Democrat Party at that time.
The Supreme Court ruled in asserting its jurisdiction that the General Assembly had established no “manner prescribed by law” for determining the outcome of such a contested election.
Furthermore, the high court decided that the Democrat-controlled elections board had misinterpreted the statutes allowing out-of-precinct votes, sending the matter back to the lower courts.
In the meantime, the Democrat controlled General Assembly quickly convened to clarify the law on provisional ballots, while also addressing the constitutional issues of such a contested election raised by the high court.
The Democrats quickly assembled a joint committee chaired by Democrat Sen. Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte and Democrat Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh (yes, the same Deborah Ross who just got beat handily by Richard Burr in the race for the U.S. Senate) to hastily develop a process where the General Assembly can resolve contested elections.
At the time, Ross said lawmakers were sure to do all they could to ensure that they were setting a precedent. “We did our job with history in mind,” she asserted.
“I don’t know who there is to say it’s not a contested election,” he said.