Once Again, Election Results in Durham County Become Center of Attention | News
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Once Again, Election Results in Durham County Become Center of Attention

Posted by on Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 11:11 AM

Elections aren't simple. If you've ever been in the room when election results are being tabulated, you know that there is a lot going on at one time. And if you were in the Durham County Board of Elections office on November 8, you know that was the case.

But, let's talk about what happened for a second—technical failures. So far, there has been no evidence of someone purposely tampering with the results (or possibly losing a tote, but that's another story).

Over the weekend, the county sent out an extremely detailed press release going through what happened on Tuesday, from 6:45 a.m. (thirty minutes after polls opened) when computer check-in systems started to fail until 10 p.m., when a bipartisan team began manually entering tabulations from five cards that had been corrupted (more on that later).

By midnight, all of the results had been sent to the state board, but that wasn't the last we'd be hearing of it.

Thomas Stark, a Chapel Hill-based attorney who is the general counsel for the NCGOP, filed an election protest on Friday, alleging there was malfeasance in the final count. Stark is a Durham County voter and has voted in 2012, 2014, and 2016.

Stark claims a "critical error" in the voting machines scanning ballots caused an influx of unreliable data because, in some instances, a corruption of the cards used to log votes can lead to a corruption of the internal memory of the tabulation machines.

Durham County Board of Elections Chairman William Brian, one week after the election, greeted members of the community and media members for a press conference— and said that there was no evidence the hard drives of the tabulation machines had been corrupted.

"Mr. Stark may have some (evidence) but we have seen no evidence to that effect as of today," Brian said.

Brian says he was not contacted by the SBI nor did the district attorney contact him.

If you're not sure how tabulating ballots works, here's a handy chart from the North Carolina State Board of Elections, made back in May, when it held a meeting to hear protests concerning the March primary election.
click to enlarge screen_shot_2016-11-14_at_11.01.29_am.png
OK, so let's breakdown that graphic.

When a voter enters the polling location in Durham County, he or she casts a paper ballot and puts it into a tabulator (the machine that tells you what voter number you are). From there, that tabulator can show two forms of records of votes—the PCMCIA card and a results tape. Usually, the card is then put into a computer that has the appropriate tabulation software. In this case, when the cards were put into the computer, there was an error causing them to be deemed unreadable.

At that point, the state board and the card vendors were notified. A state board representative, in consultation with the county board, decided to use the result tapes and manually enter those (which are signed by elections officials when they're printed off). The decision was made to wait to manually input those results until the county board had received the majority of results from the fifty-seven precincts around the county as to "avoid the delay in the reporting of election day results." The five cards that were corrupted included five early voting (one-stop voting) locations and precinct 29. That totaled 94,159 votes.

click to enlarge Members of the Durham County Board of Elections manually enters results tapes from five early voting locations and one Election Day precinct on November 8, 2016. - LAUREN HORSCH
  • Lauren Horsch
  • Members of the Durham County Board of Elections manually enters results tapes from five early voting locations and one Election Day precinct on November 8, 2016.
The results tape was manually entered by a bipartisan group and had a state board of elections representative overseeing the process. Once the group was done inputting the results, the state board representative, along with other members of the board, did a spot check of the results put into the tabulation software along with the results tape.

Brian says he very confident in the results tape, which is seen as the official record of the election—not the electronic cards.

"We, as of today, and I say this absolutely with no hesitance, there's no evidence whatsoever that there's any inaccuracy or problem with any of the returns that were reported on Election Day," Brian said.

On November 8 and throughout the days after the election, the NCGOP, and Governor Pat McCrory, said a "sudden emergency of over 90,000 votes" happened on Tuesday night. The board was made aware of the issues with the cards about 7:30 p.m. and were well aware that they existed. The votes did not magically appear out of thin air. If the county were to go back and recount, Brian says it could take days to do so.

There weren't a lot of people in the room when the manual entry started. I was one of maybe a handful of non-county-related people there. The county board is made up of three members—two Republicans and one Democrat—appointed by McCrory. An assistant county attorney helps oversee the meetings and then the board of elections staff executes elections.

In the late spring and early summer, at least six protests were filed asking for a recount of the March primary results after more than 1,000 ballots were found to have been mishandled in some way. The state board declined such requests. The investigation into what Brian calls "a rogue employee" was conducted by the state BOE, which produced a report that was then given to the Durham County district attorney, who has since turned the investigation over to the State Bureau of Investigations.

"What I have been assured, by people who said to have read the report si that nobody presently employed by or associated with the (Durham County) Board of Elections is a subject of the investigation," Brian said. The INDY has not been able to obtain the report.

click to enlarge Members of the public along with the Durham County Board of Elections waits for election results to be uploaded to the North Carolina State Board of Elections on November 8, 2016. - LAUREN HORSCH
  • Lauren Horsch
  • Members of the public along with the Durham County Board of Elections waits for election results to be uploaded to the North Carolina State Board of Elections on November 8, 2016.
From what we do know, two people who were on staff during the time of the March primary are no longer employed there—including elections administrator Richard Rawling, who resigned in late March via a handwritten note to then-director Michael Perry. Rawling was reportedly in charge of the provisional ballots. Perry, who had been on medical leave during the investigation, has formally resigned his post as director effective November 1.

Since the March primary, the county board has been embattled and on November 8, Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens denied a request from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to extend voting at all precincts in Durham County until 9 p.m. saying, "Durham, historically, hasn't figured out how to carry out an election."

Brian rebutted that statement. "I think that a number of comments about Durham County's history have been made which are inaccurate. Durham County does not have a history of bad elections," Brian says. "And I'll stand by that."

It's easy to see why McCrory is nervous and wants the most accurate results possible. Soon, he could become a one-term governor. And in Durham, he received 20.8 percent of the vote, and 30,180 votes—89,606 votes less than Roy Cooper (who had 78.5 percent of the vote in Durham County). And just days away from the county canvass of the results, he's nearly 5,000 votes behind Cooper.

The county is already in the process of looking to buy new elections equipment because the tabulation machines voters put the ballots into—the M100—are no longer supported by the manufacturer. As far as the electronic poll books that had technical glitches, Brian said those are being looked at to determine what caused the issue. But the county will be evaluating whether to keep using them because there have been past issues with them.

"And I don't know if they're worth the effort we're putting into them. But that's a discussion for the board to have at a later date," he says.

The Durham County Board of Elections will have a probable cause hearing on Stark's prostest at 8 a.m. November 16 in the Commissioners' Chambers in the County Administration Building, 200 E. Main Street.

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