Raleigh, N.C. — John C. Bland, 48, tried to vote Thursday at Durham County's Githens Middle School early voting location, only to be told by election officials that he had already cast a vote.
"I said, 'Maybe you've got it mixed up,'" Bland said Monday. His father, James Bland, has a similar name. And it turns out there's another John Bland who lives in Durham, although he's 17 years older, lives at another address and is a different race.
Nope, poll workers insisted, John C. Bland had already voted.
"It took me about 15 minutes, but eventually they let me vote a provisional ballot," Bland said. Provisional ballots are held out until canvass day, which comes the week after Election Day. At that point, local boards of elections determine whether provisional ballots should be counted.
But as of Monday morning, there appeared to be quite the mystery. State board of elections records show that both Bland's father and the other John Bland are recorded as voting under their own name. And they also showed that John C. Bland had voted. In fact, the two John Blands appeared to have voted on the same day and same place.
This mystery seems to have an answer, according to Don Wright, who is the chief lawyer for the State Board of Elections.
But to understand the explanation, it might be helpful to hear from the other John Bland, John H. Bland, who is 66.
"Well, let me tell you what happened when I went to vote," John H. Bland said when asked about John C. Bland's tale.
He said that he originally was given a ballot application form – the piece of paper you get and sign before getting your ballot – with the wrong name on it.
"It was John Bland, just like mine, but had a different middle name," he said. He couldn't remember which middle name was there, but he said that it wasn't his.
John H. Bland said he pointed out the error and eventually got the right form, and his own ballot, to vote. Poll workers, he said, crossed out the ballot application form they had created, he said.
Wright showed WRAL News a copy of that form, which indeed bore a big "X" across it.
However, the poll workers failed to carry out a crucial step on Oct. 18, Wright said.
"It (the ballot) was spoiled by the poll worker, but they failed to cancel the vote," he said.
That meant the county and state vote tracking systems showed that John C. Bland had gotten his ballot already. However, that ballot was never cast, Wright said.
"It's an administrative error," Wright said.
John C. Bland said he is still uncertain. He said that Michael Perry, director of Durham County's board of elections, showed him a form that seemed to indicate someone had signed for his ballot.
Wright said he was sure the ballot in question was not voted and that the provisional ballot that John C. Bland cast would be counted during the canvass.
Bland said this isn't a political story, but it argues for better security at the polls.
"We need some better better system of identifying people who are going to vote," Bland said. Whether that system involves photo ID or something else, he said, is for others to argue.
Update: After the story above went online, we got an e-mail from Nichole Michelle Brown, also of Durham County. And she had a similar story, which she provided in her own words:
I just read your article on "Men with same name face ballot confusion" and the same thing happened to me at the Durham South Regional Library today. I went to early vote and when I gave the election judge my information, she looked and said "it shows that you've already voted." The problem was, I hadn't voted. Then I was told that there was another Nicole M. Brown in the system and when she came to vote, they gave her my ballot. I don't know how this could happen because the name on my Ballot is Nicole Michelle Brown and if they were really checking the address and date of birth, they would've known that the other Nicole M. Brown was not me. I had to do a Provisional Ballot and I was not told that my vote would not be counted with the other votes on Election Day. I was only told that my vote would be counted. I'm glad I did early voting and discovered this problem early. Had I waited until Election Day, I don't know what would've happened.
Michael Perry, director of the Durham County Board of Elections, said this problem isn't exactly typical.
"We see it more often with juniors and seniors, especially when they have the same address," Perry said. That is to say, if there is a John Doe Sr. and a John Doe Jr. on the voting list, that's an easy mistake to make.
In Mr. Bland's case, Perry confirmed Wright's account, saying that a poll worker had failed to cancel the first voter authorization that was handed to John H. Bland. Nobody who wasn't supposed to cast John C. Bland's ballot, he said.
He had not heard about Brown's case.
Asked if this was a common problem, Perry said that the board of elections trains its workers to be careful when looking up and printing forms.
"In spite of all that training, we occasionally make a mistake," he said.