Durham elections board votes to hear evidence in GOP recount demand
Posted November 16, 2016
DURHAM, N.C. — Following a complaint filed by a North Carolina Republican Party attorney, the Durham County Board of Elections voted Wednesday to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether a recount of 94,000 general election ballots is warranted.
GOP general counsel Thomas Stark filed the complaint last week, saying an error in the machines that count ballots makes the current vote count unreliable. The board passed the motion by a 2-1 vote and will hold the hearing on Friday, which is the normal day for county canvasses to certify election results.
"We should err on the side of giving people the opportunity to make their points, and that's not pre-judging any of the evidence nor is it making a comment one way or the other," elections board Chairman Bill Brian said. "This is a highly charged issue."
Brian and elections board member Margaret Griffin voted to move forward with the hearing, while board member Dawn Braxton voted against proceeding.
The equipment glitch forced a tedious process of manually entering the early ballots late on Nov. 8, and mistakes were possible, Brian said at a news conference. But multiple elections officials were watching as the results were tallied, and spot-checks also were performed that night, he said.
"That raises a question," said Stark, a Durham County resident. "My reasoning was, if you have a question, you double-check."
Durham County voted heavily for Democrat Roy Cooper in the gubernatorial race both during early voting and on Election Day, Brian said.
Brian said it's unlikely Gov. Pat McCrory will find the surge of extra votes in Durham County that the Republican needs to reverse Cooper's statewide lead and win re-election.
"There was no wildly disharmonious result," he said. "If the returns had been reported at 7:30 (p.m. when polls closed), they would have been the same numbers as were reported at 11:30. It just took us that long to input them into the machines. There's nothing the least bit odd about any of it."
Stark said it "makes sense" to recount the ballots to ensure vote totals are accurate.
"I think the board simply ought to just recount them and move on," he said.
The focus on Durham County's votes is likely to sharpen as McCrory and Cooper continue waging their too-close-to-call contest. Cooper led Tuesday in unofficial results by about 5,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.
McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said he was pleased the county board would hold a hearing on the disputed ballots, saying the State Board of Elections has identified several errors in Durham County's numbers.
"We believe it is in everyone's best interest to get to the bottom of what happened so that people can have faith in the results, process and system," Diaz said in a statement.
Brian Neesby, a business systems analyst for the state elections board, stated in an affidavit filed Tuesday that he compared the manual tabulations with those from the machines and found several discrepancies, mostly in the Durham County Board of Commissioners race. None of the other errors – the largest was off by 27 votes – was in the gubernatorial race, according to the affidavit.
Brian, a registered Republican, said he resents the continued suggestion that voting in Durham is suspect.
"Somehow, in counties that have majority African-American populations, we have to recount twice because we can’t trust them," he said of such arguments. "I don’t appreciate that at all. ... Durham has a long history of conducting good elections."
Republicans have also challenged mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Halifax counties, claiming that the same few people witnessed numerous ballots.