Post-Election Procedures and Audits


Keep reading to learn about the processes that occur after every election, or click the links below to jump to a subject on this page.

For specific information about the results of the 2020 election, visit 2020 Election Certification.

County Canvass

Results on election night are unofficial. Canvass is the official process of determining the votes have been counted and tabulated correctly, resulting in the authentication of the official election results.

For close elections, the canvass period is especially important. During this time, elections officials count absentee ballots that came in before the deadline and research provisional ballots to determine whether they should be counted.

In every county, the canvass meeting when the results are certified is 10 days after Election Day. Because elections thrive on transparency, the canvass meeting is open to the public. Unless the county board unanimously votes for another site, the meeting will be held at the county board of elections office, per Canvassing votes (N.C.G.S. § 163-182.5).

Before the canvass meeting, the board must ensure that the sample hand-to-eye audit count and any discretionary or mandatory recounts have been completed.

Additionally, county boards confirm all eligible ballots have been counted, including:

  • Ballots that were unable to be read in the precinct (ballot jams, torn ballots, etc.)
  • Absentee ballots
  • Provisional ballots

At the meeting, the board will prepare and sign all relevant, permanent public documents. The county board will retain one copy; a copy will be filed with either the clerk of Superior Court or, in the case of municipal elections, with the municipal clerk; and a copy will be provided to the State Board of Elections.

Post-Election Audits

The state and county boards of elections conduct audits after every election. Audits can detect problems such as equipment tampering, ballot stuffing, and voting machine or counting errors. The State Board of Elections constantly strives to improve its post-election audits using best practices among elections experts and experiences of other states. After each election, elections officials conduct the following audits.

Types of Post-Election Audits

Keep reading to learn more, or click the links below to jump to the details about each type of audit.

Voter History Audit

When voters check in at a polling place or early voting site, they fill out an authorization to vote (ATV) form or early voting application during early voting. This results in a voter history record for each individual. When ballots are inserted into the tabulator, the tabulator displays a ballot count for the number of ballots cast on the tabulator. The voter history audit compares the number of ATV forms and early voting applications with the number of physical ballots cast. These two numbers should generally match, but may be slightly off for valid reasons, such as if a voter checked in and then decided not to vote. This audit is designed to identify certain problems or fraud, such as ballot stuffing, fraudulent manual entries, tampering with media cards, or certain ballot coding issues.

Data Validation

The election reporting systems in use in all counties include checks to ensure that results that are manually entered by election officials match to ballots cast per that reporting group (e.g., absentee-by-mail, early voting sites, and Election Day precinct sites) and that the total tallies for each ballot item match the sums of the individual tallies from each reporting group.

Provisional Audit

Voters cast provisional ballots when there are questions about their qualifications or eligibility to vote in certain contests. Those ballots are held aside pending research by county boards of elections as to whether they should be counted. This audit of provisional voter data analyzes data from several sources, including the Division of Motor Vehicles’ database, an incomplete queue that catalogs registration attempts that were deemed incomplete, and the current registration database as of Election Day. Data analysts work to determine whether provisional voters were eligible to vote in the counties where they presented to vote. Additionally, geocoding services are used to geocode the voters’ addresses to confirm that they resided in the county at the time they voted. Audit results are sent to county boards of elections, which analyze them and, where appropriate, amend their decisions to reflect any changes. This audit often results in additional ballots being counted as required by law and aims to ensure that counties across the state treat provisional ballots uniformly.

Sample Audit

The sample hand-count audit is a test to ensure that voting equipment reads voters’ choices accurately. Bipartisan teams at every county board of elections conduct this audit after every election. The audit compares election results counted by voting equipment with hand counts of ballots from randomly selected voting sites.

This hand count is open to the public and completed before each county certifies its results. This requirement has been part of every North Carolina election — big or small — since 2006.

Here’s how it works:

The day after each election, the State Board of Elections randomly selects two sample groups of ballots for each county to count by hand. These samples can be all ballots cast at selected Election Day precincts or early voting sites, or all the absentee ballots cast in a county. The State Board then informs the counties of their sample groups of ballots and which contest on the ballots to count.

For primaries and elections that include a presidential contest, the contest audited is always the presidential contest. In other elections, the contest audited is the top contest on the ballot. Bipartisan teams of trained volunteers count the selected ballots by hand. Then, they compare the hand-counted results with the results counted by the voting machines and note any differences. Minor differences between the hand count and the machine count are not unusual for the following reasons:

  • The machine did not count a selection made by a check mark or X or where the bubble or box was lightly shaded by the voter.
  • The voter did not fill in the write-in oval but wrote a candidate's name on the line.
  • Human error during the hand count.

The county sends the machine counts and hand counts to the state with an explanation for any discrepancies. The State Board reports the results publicly as part of the final certification of each election.

Close Contest Audit

This audit compares the margin of victory in any contest to the sum of the aforementioned variances (based on the other audits) to ensure that election outcomes are justified.