N.C. Gubernatorial Race Unresolved, SBOE Orders Recount in Durham County
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
December 2, 2016
More than three weeks after North Carolina voters cast their ballots; the state appears on the verge of declaring a winner in the highly contested gubernatorial race.
On Wednesday, the State Board of Elections voted 3-2 to order a machine recount of roughly 94,000 Durham County ballots that were entered late on Election Day. Incumbent Republican Pat McCrory had been leading until those votes were added. Since then, Democrat Roy Cooper’s lead has extended to more than 10,000 as provisional votes have been tallied and county election boards have completed their canvasses.
Although Cooper has proclaimed victory and assembled his transition team, as of Thursday evening McCrory had not conceded.
“We are pleased that the State Board of Elections has recognized the voting irregularities in Durham County, and we will respect whatever the results show,” said Russell Peck, the governor’s campaign manager. “We ask that this is done immediately.”
According to media reports, the recount could take eight hours, so the race could be finalized by the end of the week, unless the outcome changes significantly and Cooper’s lead drops below 10,000. At that point, McCrory could continue his push for a statewide recount which he requested on Nov. 18.
Durham County, where Cooper got 79 percent of the vote, became the focus on election night when workers there were unable to retrieve data from six ballot tabulators. Five of the machines’ memory cards malfunctioned because the number of votes exceeded the software’s memory. The sixth had a battery problem. Without the cards, election workers had to enter voting information from paper tapes produced by the tabulators.
Those familiar with the equipment told Durham officials that the paper tapes are reliable, but Republican Party officials filed complaints asking for a recount to have the votes verified. The Durham County Board of Elections rejected the appeal, but the state board agreed that clarity is needed.
“What harm would it do to scan these votes and count them?” said board member James Baker, a Republican. “It’s not likely to change anything. There was enough of an irregularity to make people wonder.”
Fellow board member Rhonda Amoroso, also a Republican, cited staffing changes in Durham County and the need to rebuild confidence in the election system as reasons to hold a recount.
“I think right now we have a taint,” she said.
N.C. Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said the recount will give Tar Heel voters “full and complete confidence in the results that came out of Durham County.”
Although it is the area with the most votes in question, Durham County isn’t the only location where questions have arisen. In Bladen County, elections officials have investigated some 300 write-in votes that appear to have the same handwriting. Those write-ins were for a Democratic Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor, but the ballots also included votes in the governor’s race.
Apparently five people filled out and witnessed dozens of absentee ballots each and received hundreds of dollars for Get-Out-The-Vote efforts from the Bladen County Improvement Association political action committee, which lists the North Carolina Democratic Party as its primary donor.
“With hundreds of fraudulent votes found in just one North Carolina County for a straight Democratic ticket, close examination of this election is required to make sure the true winner of the election is properly determined,” Jason Torchinsky, legal counsel for the Pat McCrory Committee Legal Defense Fund, said in a recent press release. “The staggering evidence of voter fraud in Bladen County and the number of similar PACs that the North Carolina Democratic Party donated to shortly before the start of early vote requires close examination throughout the state.”
In other counties, some McCrory supporters filed complaints alleging that votes of convicted felons and dead people were counted, but in most cases county-level elections officials were able to sort through problems, showing that now-dead voters had, in fact, been alive when they cast their early ballots but had passed away prior to Election Day.
Gov. McCrory and other Republicans have been criticized for scrutinizing election results and filing complaints when procedures appear questionable, but voter fraud remains a concern in a state that allows same-day registration and, because of a recent federal court ruling, cannot require voters to provide their IDs.
In fact, the Civitas Institute is challenging same-day registrations in a case that was expected to be heard on Friday. The group is calling for a delay in counting ballots cast using same-day registration to add further integrity to the election system. Election officials have long said it is difficult if not impossible to verify last-minute registrations prior to Election Day.
The Civitas suit is not expected to affect the outcome of the November election.