Those who don’t obsessively follow the news can be forgiven for imagining that North Carolina’s recent election was characterized by massive foul-ups if not outright fraud.
After all, Gov. Pat McCrory took nearly a month to concede a loss that looked obvious to most close observers the day after the election. The 5,000 vote margin – which increased to 10,000 over the excruciating interval – was undoubtedly tight, but never likely to change.
There were reports of major irregularities in often-benighted Durham. Absentee ballot mills were allegedly operating throughout the state. Protests by the McCrory campaign and its allies were reported in over half of North Carolina’s counties (although the State Board of Elections was never able to document more than 30 or so).
Here in Wake County, four separate protests were filed (though all were rejected by the Wake County Board of Elections). One concerned two voters who voted early and died before Election Day. One concerned alleged felons who voted (although two of the three alleged felons turned out to be relatives of the felons). A number of voters were publicly accused of voting in two states – a crime – but the “evidence” was non-existent.
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The entire spectacle was calculated to – and no doubt will – further undermine public confidence in our elections.
As two people, though, who actually watched the process up-close and personally, we know the difference between the fantasy of a massively flawed election and the reality of what happened on the ground.
Here in Wake County – over 17 days of early voting and Election Day – over 530,000 of our fellow citizens cast their ballots. Of that number, 57 percent voted early and in person and about 5 percent voted by mail-in absentee ballot. The balance – nearly 200,000 Wake County citizens – voted in-person on Election Day. In other words, all these folks were able to cast votes at 20 early voting sites (just nine in week one) and 202 precincts on Election Day. With at least 39 contests from President to Water & Soil Commissioner on every ballot, that translates to over 20 separate million votes in just Wake County alone.
Was the election perfect? As with any complex enterprise involving human beings, the answer is necessarily no. Was it operated in a fair and orderly manner? Clearly yes. Was it irregular or corrupt? Absolutely not.
We watched this process play out on Election Day from a voter protection call center and a Wake County precinct, respectively. Again, it was orderly but not perfect. After the election, we spent about 20 hours in the Wake Board of Elections warehouse where the county board canvassed all those ballots in public.
The three-member Wake County board – comprised of two Republicans and one Democrat – and the Wake County elections staff conducted the canvass in a manner that would make any citizen proud of our elections process. Of several thousand ballots cast provisionally because of some potential problem, none was accepted or rejected without individual inspection, first by the staff and then by at least one board member. The staff conducted a hand-eye recount of two randomly selected precincts (with the results confirmed in each). Voters with address issues were contacted by the board, all in an effort to try to make sure their votes counted.
As for the McCrory protests, all four were rejected by the Wake Board as lacking in evidence. In the end, the same fate befell the other protests around the state. In Durham County, an exhaustive and expensive recount changed fewer than 10 votes out of nearly 100,000 cast (and all in favor of the candidate who wasn’t the one challenging the results).
We have no doubt that the experiences of the last month will be used to attempt to justify further restrictions on voting. Don’t buy it. The election worked. The professionals who work for our counties did their jobs; the county boards – each one Republican-controlled by the governor’s own appointees – acted honorably.
The reward for the politicians and partisans undermining our elections process with phony stories of voting irregularities and voter fraud should not be more unneeded restrictions on voting. Their fables should be rejected and not allowed to drive our public policy on this crucial feature of our democracy. That policy should be to make voting as easy and accessible as reasonably possible, with each voter’s votes counting.
In the end, our election process was placed under a microscope and, as a result, can be declared healthy.
Press Millen is a trial lawyer in the Raleigh office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP. Siobhan Millen is a longtime Wake County precinct worker.