State board refers Durham election case to district attorney
Posted October 12, 2016
Updated October 13, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — State officials have referred an investigation into how the Durham County Board of Elections mishandled more than 1,900 provisional ballots this spring to the county's district attorney.
The State Board of Elections completed its review of the problems experienced during the spring primary this week, but officials there declined to release the report, saying that it was part of an ongoing investigation.
"We believe there were irregularities that materially affected the March primary," said Josh Lawson, the state board's general counsel.
While there weren't enough votes lost to change the outcome of any election, he said, "Those irregularities did not exist in a vacuum. We wanted law enforcement to be aware of them."
In North Carolina, elections are run by local election agencies in each of the 100 counties. Those 100 local boards are overseen by a state board, which sets rules, compiles statewide vote tallies and adjudicates disputes.
North Carolina State Board of Elections officials discovered the problem with Durham in April during a routine audit of primary results. 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. The most common problems are glitches in voter registrations or voters attempting to cast ballots in the wrong precinct.
It is clear from information released thus far that Durham officials misplaced some number of provisional ballots this spring. Other ballots that should not have counted may have been added to initial tallies, and some ballots appear to have been counted twice when the county first transmitted its results.
As a result 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. However, an official determination of what exactly went wrong has never been issued.
Although this is not always the case, it would be unusual for state officials to refer a case to prosecutors if they didn't believe there was some sort of criminal wrongdoing. Lawson would only say, "We don't refer things where we believe there is a dead end."
Durham election officials have not been privy to the report or the investigation.
"I have no idea what he report contains," said William Brian Jr., chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections.
Brian said he learned of the referral to the Durham district attorney from WRAL News. "We have no way of knowing if they found something criminal or not."
Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols could not immediately be reached for comment.