Durham News

Durham elections chairman: No evidence of inaccurate reporting on 94,000 votes

Officials have seen no evidence supporting questions raised about the accuracy of more than 94,000 votes that were counted manually on election night, Durham County Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian said Tuesday.

“We have seen no evidence to that effect,” Brian said during a Tuesday press conference. “Mr. (Thomas) Stark may have some, but we have seen no evidence to that effect.”

Stark, general counsel for the state Republican Party, filed a formal protest Friday contending that the Durham County Board of Elections engaged in “malfeasance” with regard to ensuring the accuracy of votes counted Nov. 8. Durham County officials had to manually enter information after they were unable to upload data from six cards that saved information from ballot tabulators.

The votes were pivotal on election night, pushing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper ahead of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whose campaign has expressed concern about the votes. Cooper, the state’s attorney general, leads McCrory by about 5,000 votes with some absentee and provisional votes yet to be counted.

McCrory can call for a recount so long as the margin between them remains less than 10,000 votes.

The Durham County Board of Elections will meet at 8 a.m. Wednesday for a probable cause hearing on the formal protest to consider whether there is any basis to the complaint. If the board determines there is any basis, it will hold a full evidentiary hearing at a meeting already scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday to certify the final voting totals for Durham County.

Like all county elections boards, the Durham County Board of Elections is made up of two Republicans — including Brian — and a Democrat. The governor appoints members of the State Board of Elections, which appoints members of county elections boards.

Votes cast at precincts and one-stop voting locations are stored on tabulator data storage cards and recorded on a paper tape, creating two separate records. Election officials typically upload the information from cards to quickly report it to the State Board of Elections. On Nov. 8, they couldn’t pull data off six cards, election officials have said.

Five of the cards were from one-stop early voting locations, and one was from Precinct 29, at Glenn Elementary School.

In response, officials reviewed the information on the paper tapes and entered it manually.

Stark’s protest questions whether the tape that Durham County officials relied on was also corrupt, and whether “well meaning” election officials should rely on “bleary eyes and tired hands.”

“Rather, it should take the obvious and necessary step of taking the paper ballots that were originally fed into the M100 machines with the corrupted data systems, and manually hand count those ballots prior to any formal audit or canvass,” the protest states.

Brian, however, said Tuesday he is “very confident” in the tapes Durham County officials used to count the votes. He said a recount would take days.

SBI probes primary

Meanwhile, the State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the mishandling of provisional ballots in the March primary.

Voters can cast provisional ballots if there are questions about their eligibility or qualification. The ballots are held until the questions can be resolved. Since early April, the State Board of Elections has been investigating Durham County’s handling of provisional ballots during the March 15 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. A temporary employee told Michael Perry, then director of the Durham County Board of Elections, that another staffer directed her to run the ballots twice to get the numbers to match, according to emails.

Other employees 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.

Making a fraudulent entry on elections books and certifying, delivering or transmitting false returns are Class I felonies.

State elections officials have said the provisional ballots would not change the results of any races, but over the summer new ballots were sent to about 900 provisional voters whose ballots weren’t counted due to the mishandling.

The State Board of Elections handed its criminal investigation and report to Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols in October. Echols turned it over to the SBI on Oct. 31, according to an SBI spokesman.

Brian said he hasn’t read the report.

“I have been assured by people who have read the report is that nobody presently employed by or associated with the Board of Elections is a subject of the investigation,” Brian said. “The two issues are really very separate from one another.”

But the McCrory campaign linked the two elections in a statement issued Tuesday.

“It’s pretty troubling that the chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections, which is currently under investigation for mishandling ballots in the March 2015 primary, can claim that nothing improper happened before conducting a thorough investigation or manual recount,” campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said. “Instead of inexplicably trying to protect their damaged reputation and prejudging the outcome, the Durham County Board of Elections should focus on ensuring votes are properly counted.”

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges