Durham News

Durham County commissioner asks for new election

County Commissioner Michael Page is asking for a new election in light of the mishandling of some Durham County provisional ballots in the March primary.

“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,” said Page, who filed an election protest earlier this week.

An election protest is a written complaint that contends something went wrong during the election and spurs a hearing by the local or state Board of Elections to find facts and make recommendations.

Page, longtime chairman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, failed to win re-election in the March 15 primary. He finished 1,093 votes behind James Hill, who won the fifth and final spot on the board. The Democratic primary effectively decided the election because there were no Republicans running.

Since early April, the N.C. State Board of Elections has been investigating Durham 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, according to emails provided by the State Board of Elections. Provisional ballots are used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility.

A temporary employee told Michael Perry, director of the Durham County Board of Elections, that another staffer directed her to run the ballots twice to get the numbers to match, the emails state. 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.

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. Qualifying provisional voters filled out different ballots for Republican, Democratic, Libertarian or nonpartisan races.

The Durham County Board of Elections met Tuesday and successfully asked Page if it could set the protest aside pending the recommendation from the state.

Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, has indicated she will likely recommend that the Durham County board re-certify the election results without including the provisional ballots, said Bill Brian, the Durham County chairman of the Board of Elections.

In general, protests involving issues within one county are often 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 remove the case from the local agenda and hear the protest itself.

Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, said the state board will consider doing just that Friday during a 4 p.m. meeting held via teleconference.

The action, if approved, could expedite the process, Lawson said, considering the state board has been conducting the investigation and possesses most of the evidence.

State officials reviewed the Durham County election results, including without the provisional ballots, and determined the outcome of the elections wasn’t affected, Lawson said.

But that isn’t enough for Page.

“The whole election process was tainted,” Page said. “If there is a discrepancy with one ballot, I don’t trust it. It is unethical, and it is inappropriate.”

Ultimately, the board will look at the numbers, including the margin of victory and impact of the discrepancy, Lawson said.

One election protest has recently been successful.

In April the State Board of Elections ordered a new Democratic primary for a Winston-Salem City Council race after it was determined that election officials gave some voters the wrong ballots.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges