State Politics

Durham elections worker pleads guilty to mishandling ballots

A former elections worker in Durham pleaded guilty to mishandling provisional ballots in a March 2016 primary. North Carolina state elections officials said what the worker did would not have changed election outcomes.
A former elections worker in Durham pleaded guilty to mishandling provisional ballots in a March 2016 primary. North Carolina state elections officials said what the worker did would not have changed election outcomes. N&O file photo

A former Durham County elections worker will be on probation for a year after pleading guilty earlier this month to failing to discharge the duties of his office.

Richard Robert Rawling of Cary entered his plea Jan. 5, almost four months after a grand jury handed up an indictment against him. In addition to the year of probation, Rawling must pay $500 in court fines and fees.

The charge stems from an incident related to the March 15 primary election in 2016.

During that primary, a discrepancy was discovered within a week after a local canvass of votes, which appeared to be related to Durham County Board of Elections staff counting about 200 provisional ballots twice to get the ballot count to match.

Provisional ballots are used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility. They are often used when voters go to the wrong precinct or when their name can’t be found on the voting rolls.

Investigators from the N.C. State Board of Elections determined that Rawling ran or ordered others to run provisional ballots through tabulators more than once and made manual changes to the ballot count so the results of the provisional canvass would match the number of approved provisional ballots.

The grand jury, which said the alteration represented an obstruction of justice, added that Rawling’s altering of ballots was “committed in secret with deceit or the intent to defraud,” according to language in the indictment.

The N.C. State Board of Elections, which is now called the Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, found that the irregularities resulting from Rawling’s efforts were not enough to affect any election outcomes.

It also found no evidence that Rawling, who is registered as a voter unaffiliated with either party, altered any ballot counts to support a particular party or candidate.

“We applaud the Durham County District Attorney’s Office for its work on this case,” Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, said in a statement. “Any interference in election results – whether internal or external – can change election outcomes. While contest outcomes were not affected in this situation, investigations and prosecutions of cases like this are imperative for election integrity.”

Rawling ended his work with the Durham County Board of Elections in March 2016, shortly after the primary elections.

Derek Bowens took over as Durham County’s elections director in June 2017. This incident occurred under a former director.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

  Comments