Durham News

State is investigating handling of Durham County election ballots

State election officials are investigating Durham County’s handling of provisional ballots during the March primary.

“A discrepancy relating to the provisional ballots cast during the March 15th primary election was discovered within a week after the local canvass,” wrote Bill Brian, chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections, in a statement.

The discrepancy appears to relate to the staff counting about 200 provisional ballots twice to get the ballot count to match, according to emails provided by the N.C. State Board of Elections. Provisional ballots are used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility. They are often used when voters go to the wrong precinct or when their name can’t be found on the voting rolls.

After a brief Durham County Board of Elections internal investigation, the matter was referred to the State Board of Elections, Brian wrote. The State Board of Elections has been conducting an investigation and Durham County is cooperating fully.

The discrepancy won’t affect any of the local races, Brian said in an interview Thursday afternoon. Incumbent County Commissioner Chair Michael Page was 1,093 votes behind James Hill, who won the fifth and final spot on the Board of Commissioners.

About 1,900 people cast provisional ballots, according to information provided by the state, and about 1,039 of those votes were counted. Within that number, the votes are further broken down by whether voters chose to vote Republican, Democratic, Libertarian or nonpartisan.

In an April email to a N.C. State Board of Elections official, Perry wrote that a few days after the Durham County Board of Elections Canvass, a temporary staff member asked to speak with him privately.

“She tearfully told me that when tabulating provisional ballots, she was directed by a BOE staff member to run some ballots a second time to get the ballot count number to match,” Perry wrote in the email.

After learning about the situation, Perry then attempted to run the ballots again, and the ballots were about 200 short of the number of ballots cast.

“It was at this time that other temp staff members came forward stating that there was a tote of unopened and uncounted ballots present after everything was supposedly completed,” the email states.

Staff unsuccessfully searched for the ballots, Perry wrote.

“The regular staff member that was supervising the counting and tabulating operation did not provide any useful information, only stating that he didn’t know what happened to them,” Perry wrote. “Complicating the matter, the same staff member abruptly resigned on March 29.”

On Thursday morning Brian said he was informed that Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, will likely recommend that the Durham County Board of Elections re-canvass the election results, without including the provisional ballots.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges