State BOE Orders 892 Provisional Ballots to be Recast from the March 15 Durham County Primary | News

State BOE Orders 892 Provisional Ballots to be Recast from the March 15 Durham County Primary


Durham County Commissioner candidate James Hill - JAMES HILL / FB
  • James Hill / FB
  • Durham County Commissioner candidate James Hill
Four-plus hours into the N.C. State Board of Elections meeting yesterday, winners and losers in the March 15 Democratic primary for the Durham County commission, as well as their supporters, finally got their chance to be heard. The election results had been challenged by three losing incumbents, Chairman Michael D. Page and commissioners Elaine Hyman and Fred Foster Jr., who asked for a new elections. On Friday, the Durham County Board of Elections seemed inclined to grant that request—though, ultimately, that decision was left to the state BOE. 

So here we were. 

"I can only describe this fiasco as a flawed process," Page, who placed just outside the top five in the ten-person primary, told the BOE. "This election lacks integrity."

Hyman, a retired city government employee who blames the INDY’s non-endorsement for her placing seventh in March, said her "confidence in the electoral process has been deeply shaken. … Durham will forever be changed regardless of the outcome."

Winners Wendy Jacobs and James Hill, on the other hand, sympathized with the protest, but—understandably—didn't want a second primary, which Jacobs said would have disenfranchised the almost eighty thousand voters who had no problem casting a ballot in March. She has a point: special elections are notorious for low turnout. Hill, for his part, said it would set a "dangerous precedent" on new primary races even when the votes in question (1,039 in this case) are less than the margin of victory (1,161). 

In the end, the state BOE had some tough words for the Durham Board of Elections, but didn't give Page or Hyman the new primary they wanted. Instead, the BOE ordered 147 provisional ballots that can be attributed to a voter to be counted, and the other 892 to be recast via a mail-in ballot. 

There were several irregularities in the primary centering around the Durham primary. First, State Board of Elections executive director Kim Westbrook-Strach explained, 1,918 provisional ballots were cast, while only 1,841 were returned to the state BOE. The Durham BOE also didn't tabulate all of the "approved or partially approved" provisional ballots, of which there were 1,039; the SBE only received 980. Finally, records show that a number of "manual edits" were made, "rendering documentation of ballot styles impossible."

"I am not aware of any time since I've been here of any votes being run through the tabulator more than once," Westbrook-Strach said. 

Durham County BOE director Michael Perry, who did not attend the meeting due to health issues, told the Daily Tarheel weeks ago, "A few days after our canvass, a temporary staff member asked to speak with me privately. She tearfully told me that when tabulating provisional ballots, she was told by a Board of Elections member to run some ballots a second time to get the ballot count number to match."

When given a chance to speak, Durham County BOE chairman Bill Brian said that he didn't have much to offer outside a statement that was sent to the state BOE. State BOE member Joshua Malcolm of Robeson County took issue with that.

"I find it unacceptable. … Did you think that you would come here and not be expected to say anything?" Malcolm asked. Later, Malcolm said, "I don't know you're going to restore integrity in Durham." 

After about an hour of testimony and debate, the state BOE passed a motion that focuses on retraining Durham County BOE staff members and recounting the provisional ballots in question—147 were run through during the meeting, and the other 892 voters in question will be mailed new ballots, meaning that all of those ballots will be counted. Even if all of those voters went for Page, Hyman, or Foster over Hill, Hill will still win.

After the decision was made, those in favor of a new primary were upset. A woman asked what the appeal process was; Lawson responded that it was the Wake County Superior Court.

"Then that's where we'll be," she said.

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