District 18 legislative race between Mock, Kaml waits for official results
A Grand Forks state representative is hanging on to his seat in Bismarck by just 19 votes as of Wednesday morning — and his leading opponent said she’s sticking around for a recount.
State Rep. Corey Mock finished second of four candidates in his District 18 reelection race, which includes downtown Grand Forks and nearby neighborhoods. The top two vote-getters in the race earn places in the state House of Representatives. Mock received 2,430 votes, or about 24.98% of all ballots. But GOP challenger Cindy Kaml finished only 19 votes behind — with 24.79% of all ballots, leaving the race with a razor-thin margin and an unclear future.
The results could imperil a Grand Forks politician and a star of the Democratic caucus with 12 years in the Legislature. And of the six Grand Forks legislative seats that went before local voters Tuesday night, Mock appears to be the only Democrat who won, in an apparent surge of GOP enthusiasm that kept Republican incumbents in office and cut off Democrats’ hopes of expanding their small caucus.
There’s not much local precedent for a race flipping after election night, though. Debbie Nelson, Grand Forks County’s elections chief, said she sees thin leads on election night all the time. And as far as she can remember, all the way back to 2004, there’s never been a recount or late added votes that have made a difference.
"How often do I see it change? Never,” Nelson said. “I don't know that I've ever seen it change. But (thin margins) happens frequently, and the recounts happen frequently."
Nelson also points out that there are still a few ways the final vote could shift.
One way is through “set-aside” ballots. Those are ballots that have been cast, but weren’t counted because voters didn’t bring proper identification to the polls. Those voters will need to provide county elections officials with the proper ID prior to a Nov. 9 meeting of the local Canvassing Board, which will meet to certify results.
But it’s unclear if those ballots will change the race. There are few more than 60 such ballots throughout the county, Nelson said.
Second, Nelson said the county will continue to receive and count mailed ballots that were postmarked by Nov. 2. If those ballots arrive in time to be counted by the Canvassing Board, they’ll count too, provided they pass a quick look at voters’ signatures.
And finally, Nelson said, the Canvassing Board can review ballots rejected for reasons like a signature mismatch, and make final decisions on whether those ballots can count.
Once the local Canvassing Board finishes its work on Nov. 9, the vote totals head to Bismarck for a final certification from state canvassers on Nov. 13. State Elections Specialist Lee Ann Oliver said this meeting is expected to simply approve local results.
But a recount appears likely. Election officials in both Bismarck and Grand Forks said that if the final vote totals are within half of one percentage point, then a recount is automatically triggered following the state board meeting. If the final vote totals are between half a percentage point and two points, then a candidate can request a recount.
Kaml and Mock’s race, separated by only 0.19% of the vote, appears poised to trigger the automatic recount.
Kaml, in a Wednesday morning text message, pointed out that Midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin still had mailed ballots waiting to be counted that could change the election (in the following hours, Wisconsin was called for Democrat Joe Biden and Michigan appeared headed the same direction). She insisted that her race was too close to call.
“Our poll workers, while very good at their jobs and trustworthy, are humans who can make a mistake or two,” Kaml wrote in a text message to the Herald on Wednesday. “... As a result I am not conceding at this time until the mail in ballots have the time to come in, and the recount is completed. We've waited months. We can wait a few more days to ensure every vote is counted, and counted properly.”
Mock did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, but had texted on Tuesday night to indicate his hope that early results hold firm.