State Politics

Durham recount set to finish by Monday deadline

The recount of about 94,000 ballots in Durham County should be finished well before the 7 p.m. Monday deadline, officials said Sunday as the tabulations were in full swing.

The Durham County Board of Elections hired more than 50 locals and brought in extra vote-counting machines to help speed the recount, which began Saturday afternoon after emergency meetings held by both the county board and the state board of elections that tackled controversial election issues around the state.

Workers were on pace to count more than two-thirds of the disputed ballots by the end of the day Sunday, officials said, leaving more than enough time Monday to finish the rest and let people know where the governor’s race stands.

The recount worked like an assembly line. One worker handed ballots to another worker standing at one of 26 machines, feeding them in. Others watched to make sure everything was proper. Several hours into Sunday’s work, the recount was averaging approximately 5,000 ballots per hour.

The work was ordered by the State Board of Elections over the objections of local leaders, who said it was unnecessary and a waste of money.

“I think the whole community feels like they’re being picked on,” said Bill Brian, the county’s elections chairman.

He estimates the hiring of more than 50 people, at more than $13 an hour, will cost Durham County taxpayers about $35,000. Then there are additional costs like a higher utilities bill, having to hire electricians to inspect the office before firing up so many machines at once, and having to pay the local government employees who were working overtime this weekend.

North Carolina’s top election officials said the recount was needed to settle fears over an “irregularity.” Durham reported thousands of votes late on election night, which local officials said was due to technical difficulties that required them to enter the results manually.

At the center of the controversy is the race for governor. As of Sunday, Democratic challenger Roy Cooper led Republican incumbent Pat McCrory by 10,263 votes.

If that margin dips below 10,000 after Durham’s recount, there will be a statewide recount if one is requested. McCrory had said that as long as Durham held a recount, he wouldn’t request one statewide.

The state board’s vote to order the Durham recount was split 3-2 along party lines, with Republicans in favor.

There have been virtually no reported incidents of voter fraud in recent elections, here or anywhere else in the U.S.

Nationwide, only four incidents of voter fraud have been confirmed this year – out of 135 million votes cast – according to The Washington Post. And fact-checking groups such as PolitiFact have found no evidence behind the claims of widespread voter fraud being made by President-elect Donald Trump and others.

There’s also no indication at this point that Durham’s initial count was wrong by any large amount. After recounting 52,833 of the ballots on Saturday and Sunday, officials said, Cooper gained three votes and McCrory lost one vote.

But elections officials across the state are being ordered to get ready for a recount, according to a memo sent Friday by Kim Strach, director of the state board. There will likely at least be a recount in the race for state auditor.

If so, more North Carolinians could soon get the kind of whirlwind civics lesson that people like Dane Summers are getting in Durham.

Summers, 39, heard about the emergency meeting and start of the recount on Saturday, so he came downtown to watch democracy in action. Then he came back again on Sunday.

“I want to be part of it,” he said.

Summers, a Democrat, said he liked learning more about the political process even if it left him with the impression that Durham is being mistreated by state officials. He called it “a Hail Mary” attempt to give McCrory one last shot by lobbing flimsy accusations at Durham.

“It seems pretty unfair,” he said. “We have a Republican-controlled county board of elections, and even they think it’s unfair.”

Correction: A statewide recount in the governor’s race would happen only if the gap between McCrory and Cooper drops below 10,000 votes and the recount is requested. McCrory had said that as long as Durham held a recount, he wouldn’t request one statewide.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran