NAACP officials want the State Board of Elections to order a new Durham County primary, saying the board failed to sufficiently scrutinize election results that will shift the Board of County Commissioners’ 3-2 majority from black to white.
“The tragedy of errors cited herein are so egregious and so race-based, that it is hard for the State Conference Executive Committee, made up of many experienced warriors in the fight for Voting Rights, to believe that this type of behavior would occur in North Carolina, and certainly not in Durham,” states the June 30 letter from the Durham Branch of the NAACP and the N.C. Conference of NAACP Branches.
The State Board of Elections has been investigating the county’s handling of provisional ballots during the March 15 primary since early April.
A discrepancy discovered after 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. Employees also described an unopened and uncounted tote of ballots present after everything was completed. The tote of ballots was never found after the discrepancy was discovered.
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Elections protests were initially filed by Elaine Hyman and incumbent Commissioners Michael Page and Fred Foster, who all lost their bids for the five-member Board of Commissioners in the Democratic primary. The primary effectively decided the election because there were no Republicans running. Hyman and Page asked for a new election.
The State Board of Elections denied the request at a May 31 hearing saying the provisional ballots would not change the results of any races.
About 1,900 people cast provisional ballots in the primary, and about 1,039 of those ballots were deemed eligible to be counted. The state board ultimately ordered Durham County to send new ballots to 892 voters. Those ballots are set to go out Friday, said Bill Brian, chair of the Durham County Board of Elections.
But the NAACP letter demands greater scrutiny.
“The Commission had a black majority, but a ‘White Majority’ slate was being promoted which included a camouflage Black candidate to make the takeover less obvious,” the letter states. “The ‘Majority White slate’ won.”
With Page, Foster and Commissioner Brenda Howerton, who was re-elected, the Board of County Commissioners currently has a 3-2 black majority.
With Commissioners Wendy Jacobs and Ellen Reckhow, who were re-elected, and former School Board Chair Heidi Carter, who was elected to her first term, the new board will have a 3-2 white majority.
Howerton and James Hill, who is black and was also elected, will round out the board’s five members.
The “cosmetic remedy” of the the State Board of Elections sending out new ballots to 892 voters was inadequate, the NAACP letter states. “When viewed in the light of the great shift in power within Durham County,” the gross irregularities and possible felonies the remedy is “ripe for Judicial Review.”
The letter concludes that the state’s consideration of whether the provisional votes would have altered the race was the wrong question to ask. Instead, the NAACP asks the state to consider whether the irregularities were “done to, or to cause the impact of, insuring the election of the ‘white majority slate’?”
In response, Josh Lawson, general counsel for the N.C. State Board of Elections, states in a letter that the agency shares a desire to rebuild trust in Durham County, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the state investigation and findings.
But the NAACP’s letter doesn’t show how the board’s decision was legally incorrect, Lawson writes. He also notes a state statute sets a a 10-day time limit for parties to appeal a State Board of Election decision in Wake County Superior Court. The board denied the primary protests orally May 31 and in writing June 6.