Former Durham elections worker charged with obstruction of justice

Posted August 21

Durham County Board of Elections

— A grand jury on Monday indicted a former Durham County elections worker on charges related to the mishandling of provisional ballot results during the March 2016 primary election.

Richard Robert Rawling, 59, of Cary, was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and failure to discharge a duty of his office. Investigators with the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement said any irregularities didn't affect the results of any race, and there was no evidence ballot counts were altered to favor a specific candidate or political party.

Elections board officials discovered the problem during a routine audit of primary results in April 2016. The issue involved provisional ballots, which are given to voters who experience some sort of administrative issue when they show up at a polling place, such as a glitch in voter registration or trying to cast a ballot in the wrong precinct.

Unlike regular ballots, provisional ballots aren't counted at a polling place on Election Day. Rather, they are collected and delivered to the county board of elections to determine whether they should be counted, and those deemed acceptable are then run through tabulators on the canvass day, when all vote totals are certified.

Investigators determined that Rawling ran or ordered subordinates to run provisional ballots through tabulators more than once and made manual changes to the ballot count so the results of the provisional canvass would match the number of approved provisional ballots. That was done to avoid having to report to the Durham County Board of Elections a discrepancy in the number of provisional ballots in the board's possession and the number counted on canvass day, officials said.

All told, more than 1,900 provisional ballots were mishandled in one way or another.

Because of those discrepancies, the state board threw out the results of the mishandled ballots and ordered that scores of people be able to recast their votes.

"The State Board’s top priority is ensuring the integrity of elections so voters have confidence in the process," state elections executive director Kim Westbrook Strach said in a statement. "We will continue to hold accountable elections workers and voters who violate election laws."

Rawling resigned from his work with the Durham County Board of Elections shortly after the March 2016 primary.


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