State Politics

Durham begins recounts; Bladen protest denied

Durham County began recounting ballots on Saturday afternoon, moving the date from Sunday to comply with an order from state elections officials to complete the task by Monday night.

The Durham County Board of Elections scheduled an emergency meeting for 11 a.m. Saturday and planned to begin the recount at 1 p.m. After the State Board of Elections set a 7 p.m. Monday deadline, Durham officials asked for an extension to complete the recount but the state board denied the request.

The state board voted along party lines Wednesday to order a machine recount of votes cast during early voting and at several precincts in Durham County, backing a request from Republicans and Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign.

The three Republicans on the board voted for the recount, saying that the late addition of about 90,000 votes to the statewide tally on election night constituted an “irregularity.” The state board’s decision overturned the Durham County Board of Elections, also controlled by Republicans, which had rejected the recount request as baseless.

Also on Saturday afternoon, the state Board of Elections held a five-hour hearing on a protest alleging irregularities in the Bladen County vote, which was one of numerous complaints across the state filed by McCrory and his allies. The board voted 3-2 to deny the protest, with Republican James Baker siding with the two Democrats on the board.

The board also unanimously agreed to refer to the the U.S. Attorney’s Office questions raised about similar handwriting and failure to disclose that assistance had been given on 167 absentee ballots. The ballots involved people from a community group conducting get-out-the-vote operations.

The majority of the board agreed that attorneys for the protest had not presented substantial evidence sufficient to change the outcome of the election. The focus on the controversy was the race for soil and water conservation supervisor, but the protest sought to have all votes cast on the questioned ballots thrown out. Board members said that would punish voters through no fault of their own.

The board also voted unanimously to reject an appeal from a Bladen County denial of a protest. Democrat, Kenneth Register, who lost a county commission race, claimed that the election was flawed because a group forged and submitted absentee ballots, and that there were software glitches in voting equipment.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO