The State Board of Elections took jurisdiction Friday over two election protests filed by candidates in the Durham County commissioner primary who say the election was tainted by the mishandling of provisional ballots.
Incumbent Commissioner Michael Page and Elaine Hyman placed sixth and seventh, respectively, in the March 15 Democratic primary for the five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners.
Hyman’s protests asks that every vote be counted to “give proper credit to candidates,” according to her protest form.
Page wants a new election held.
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“I want them to do the right thing by this election because there are too many questions going on regarding whether this election has been upheld in the right manner or not,” he said.
Since early April, the State Board of Elections has been investigating the county’s handling of provisional ballots during the primary.
A discrepancy, discovered after the local results were certified, suggests staff members counted about 200 provisional ballots twice to match how many eligible provisional ballots its records showed were cast. Provisional ballots are used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility.
About 1,900 people cast provisional ballots, according to information provided by the state, and about 1,039 of those ballots were deemed eligible to be counted.
About 759 of those ballots were cast in the Democratic primary.
Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, has indicated she will likely recommend the Durham County board re-certify the election results without including provisional ballots, said Bill Brian, the Durham County chairman of the Board of Elections.
State election officials have said that the provisional ballots wouldn’t affect any local races.
Page finished 1,093 votes behind James Hill, who won the fifth and final spot on the board. Hyman finished 787 votes behind Page. The Democratic primary effectively decided the election because there were no Republicans running.
In general, protests within one county are heard by the local Board of Elections, a quasi-judicial board that also certifies elections. However, the State Board of Elections has the authority to hear the protest itself, which it voted on Friday to do.
Strach told State Board of Election members it would expedite the hearing process because the state has been conducting the investigation and possesses most of the evidence.
Board members didn’t set a date for the hearing.
At the protest hearing, the board will look at the numbers, including the margin of victory and impact of the discrepancy, said Josh Lawson, the State Board of Elections’ general counsel.
Regardless, Page said, a new election should be held.
“The whole election process was tainted,” Page said. “If there is a discrepancy with one ballot, I don’t trust it.”