Durham News

State to let provisional voters recast ballots in Durham election

Nearly 900 people who cast provisional votes in the Durham County election will be given another chance to vote after election officials mishandled their ballots.

The five-member N.C. State Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday to have state election officials send ballots to 892 people who cast provisional votes in the March 15 primary.

The decision came after a presentation by Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, and questions from state board members who raised concerns about the competency of the Durham County election certification process.

Since early April, the State Board of Elections has been investigating the 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. 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, 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.

State election officials have said the provisional ballots would not change the results of any 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. On Tuesday, the board was able to re-count 147 of those ballots because all of the information initially collected during the voting process was still attached to the ballot. However, information associated with the additional 892 ballots had been separated from the initial form during the process.

The ongoing State Board of Elections investigation revealed discrepancies related to the March 15 primary, inadequate oversight of the provisional ballots when they are counted and board members not signing off on vote tabulations for provisional votes and absentee votes.

Durham County Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian said members didn’t know they needed to sign off on absentee and provisional vote tabulations, saying it has been done that way for at least six years.

Also, the state investigation discovered that 18 absentee votes weren’t counted until the state board discovered them during its investigation. The votes were counted Tuesday.

Elections protests were filed by Elaine Hyman and incumbent Commissioners Michael Page and Fred Foster. All unsuccessfully sought election to the five-member Board of Commissioners in the March 15 Democratic primary. The primary effectively decided the election because there were no Republicans running.

On Tuesday, Page and Hyman asked for a new election, saying the public has lost confidence in a process that lacks integrity. Foster didn’t attend the meeting.

State Board of Elections members expressed concern about low voter turnout in a new election and the eligible provisional voters being upset their vote wasn’t counted in March.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges