Recount order irks Durham elections chief

RALEIGH, N.C. (WRAL) — Durham County elections officials were working Thursday on the logistical details of a state-ordered recount of more than 90,000 ballots from the Nov. 8 election.

The Republican majority on the State Board of Elections voted Wednesday night for the recount, saying it was needed to ensure the public’s confidence in the state election system. The board issued an order Thursday evening requiring that the recount be finished by 7 p.m. next Monday.

The disputed votes come from five early voting sites and one Election Day precinct. Durham County officials reported the results from those six sites late on Election Night because technical problems with the memory cards from the voting machines forced them to transcribe vote totals by hand.

The late votes pushed Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper ahead of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in the gubernatorial race, and the McCrory campaign and GOP officials statewide have questioned the accuracy of the tallies ever since. Cooper’s lead in the race stood at about 10,250 votes on Thursday.

“The integrity of elections is important to the people of North Carolina, and if you have ballots sitting right there and you can go count them in a relatively short period of time, why wouldn’t you satisfy yourself that you had an accurate result?” Durham resident Thomas Stark, a lawyer for the state republican Party, asked State Board of Elections members during a Wednesday hearing.

“I was just stunned by the result, given the evidence and the argument that was put forward by both sides, but we are where we are,” Durham County Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian said Thursday. “I’m not aware of any great pall that has been cast over the returns from Durham by anybody but the people who don’t like the outcome.”

The state board’s own experts had worked with Durham County elections officials to count the ballots late on Election Night and later independently verified the vote totals in the gubernatorial race were correct. No evidence of any mistakes was presented to the state board.

Brian, a Republican, and his two colleagues on the local board, voted unanimously two weeks ago to reject Stark’s protest of the election after hearing the same evidence presented to the state board.

He gritted his teeth through the state board hearing, saying he is frustrated that his staff’s efforts are continually questioned.

“It’s irritating to me, frankly, as somebody’s who’s been a long-time Durham booster to have to go through and reprove and reprove and reprove our results, especially under the circumstances when we’ve had numerous experts stand up and say the results are accurate,” he said. “If there was evidence there was a problem, I’d be the first one to say let’s count them, let’s redo the whole thing, whatever it takes to get straight.”

Now, the board must hold a public meeting Friday to lay out the recount procedure before proceeding. In the meantime, they have to reprogram the voting tabulators to be used in the process and test them for accuracy.

Bipartisan judges and campaign attorneys then have to be brought in to observe the recount, and staff has to be hired to help. After the recount, the numbers must be audited through spot checks.

“The ballots have to be handled carefully,” Brian said. “It’s not like we can just load them all up in a big thing and let them spit through the thing. It doesn’t work that way.”

The state board has scheduled a Dec. 9 meeting to certify all votes statewide.