Durham News

Durham elections board: Not unreasonable to order new primary

The Durham County Board of Elections said Friday “it would not be unreasonable” for state election officials to order a do-over in the March 15 county commissioners primary.

Board members held an emergency meeting to discuss whether to respond to protests filed by candidates who say the election was tainted by the mishandling of provisional ballots.

“The Durham County Board of Elections does not have enough information in its possession to make any recommendation on this matter at this time,” Chairman Bill Brian said. “However, we believe it would not be unreasonable for the State Board of Elections to consider a new primary for the Durham County Board of Commissioners to address the public’s concerns.”

The N.C. State Board of Elections plans to consider two election protests Tuesday.

It has been investigating the county’s handling of provisional ballots in the primary since early April. 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. Provisional ballots are used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility.

Protests were filed by incumbent Commissioner Michael Page and Elaine Hyman, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the March 15 Democratic primary for the five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners. The Democratic primary effectively decided the election because there were no Republicans running.

Hyman’s protest asks that every vote be counted to “give proper credit to candidates.” Page wants a new election held.

At the Friday meeting, Hyman said the discrepancy has hurt voter confidence.

“We have to restore integrity,” Hyman said.

Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, has said protesters must prove that the irregularity was sufficient to cast doubt on the outcome of an election for a new election to be called.

State election officials have said the provisional ballots wouldn’t affect any local races.

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.

About 759 of those ballots were cast in the Democratic primary.

Page finished 1,093 votes behind James Hill, who won the fifth and final spot on the board. Hyman finished 787 votes behind Page.

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

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges