State elections board calls for recount in Durham

Posted November 30, 2016
Updated December 1, 2016

— The State Board of Elections on Wednesday called for a recount of more than 90,000 votes that Durham County reported late on Election Night because of technical difficulties.

The 3-2 vote along party lines, which came after a three-hour hearing, was a victory for Gov. Pat McCrory's campaign, which has lobbied for the recount ever since the Durham County votes provided the surge Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper needed to overtake McCrory in the gubernatorial race.

Although most observers say the recount is unlikely to change the results of the race, it will be one of McCrory's final chances to pull within the 10,000-vote threshold where he could request a statewide recount.

"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," McCrory campaign manager Russell Peck said in a statement. "We ask that this is done immediately."

Cooper's lead had finally topped the 10,000-vote level on Wednesday. With vote totals finalized in 96 of the state's 100 counties, Cooper was 10,257 votes ahead of McCrory.

The margin will change as those final four counties report and could conceivably retreat back under the 10,000 mark, but throughout the county canvass process, Cooper's lead has steadily grown.

"Roy Cooper's lead has now grown to over 10,000 votes. Game over. It’s time for Governor McCrory to concede. It's clear there is no path to victory for Governor McCrory. It’s time for Governor McCrory to accept the election results and respect the will of the voters," said Trey Nix, Cooper's campaign manager.

In order to carry out the recount, the Durham Board of Elections will have to:

  • Call a meeting to lay out the recount procedure. Typically, public boards give 48 hours notice before meeting.
  • Reprogram voting tabulators to be used in the process.
  • Bring in observers from both parties to observe the count.
  • Ensure that provisional ballots were not accidentally mixed in with regular ballots.

After the Durham recount, the state board will have to meet to officially carry out a statewide canvass, or official vote count. And there is a federal court hearing scheduled for Thursday to deal with a challenge brought by the conservative Civitas Institute to some voters who used same-day-registration during the early voting period.

Dispute stems from election night

The dispute in Durham County started on election night, when local officials resorted to transcribing vote totals from printouts to send to the state because the computer system couldn't read the memory cards from several voting machines. Thomas Stark, a Durham voter and a lawyer for the state Republican Party, challenged those vote counts, saying they were unreliable, and called for a recount.

The Durham County Board of Elections rejected Stark's protest two weeks ago, saying he had provided no evidence that the vote totals were wrong. State officials found only six transcription errors in the Durham County numbers, and none affected the governor's race.

Still, Stark appealed to the State Board of Elections, and the McCrory campaign emailed supporters, urging them to bombard the state board with emails and phone calls asking for the Durham County recount.

Stark called a recount "a perfunctory matter" that elections officials should want to remove any doubt over the final tally in the governor's race.

"The integrity of elections is important to the people of North Carolina, and if you have ballots sitting right there and you can go count them in a relatively short period of time, why wouldn't you satisfy yourself that you had an accurate result?" Stark asked the state board during the Wednesday hearing.

Kevin Hamilton, a lawyer for Cooper's campaign, responded by noting state law requires "substantial evidence" of wrongdoing or voting irregularities that would cast doubt on an election before calling for a recount, and he said Stark "utterly failed" to produce any evidence at all.

"Mere suspicion ... is not enough. Uncertainty is not enough," Hamilton said, asking the board to deny Stark's appeal.

Democratic state board members Joshua Malcolm and Maja Kricker echoed Hamilton's stance at the conclusion of the meeting, saying the board had uncovered no evidence of irregularities in Durham County.

"Difficulty reporting results is not a tabulation error," Kricker said.

But Republican board members said the technical problems Durham County experienced on Election Night and how local officials resolved them was the very definition of an irregularity.

"What harm would it do to scan those votes and count them?" board member James Baker asked. "There was enough irregularity to make people wonder."

Board member Rhonda Amoroso said the board has ordered new elections in races with smaller irregularities than that seen in Durham County.

Bill Brian, the Republican chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections, apologized to the state board for the controversy.

"We had to make a decision," Brian said, saying officials decided to wait to tabulate the votes from the few troublesome memory cards until the end of the night so they could report all of the other votes in a timely manner.

"I wish we could have done it simultaneously, but there are just so many hands," he said. "If we made a controversial call on Election Night, it was that. I stand by that call now, but I do understand the anxiety that must have caused with the various campaigns when that large volume of votes hit."


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  • Angus Young Dec 2, 2016
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    you said it was not costing the taxpayers a dime. That statement was clearly wrong. $4 million is a lot of dimes. She is wasting taxpayers money on something that is clearly a waste of time, just as the one in Durham is.

  • Pete Muller Dec 1, 2016
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    If McCrony will not concede after the recount in Durham, it will be time to march in thousands to wherever he currently resides and demand his concession speech clearly and loudly as long as it takes.

  • Jim Halbert Dec 1, 2016
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    Governor vs presidential elections are not equivalent. More people voted for Hillary to be president, yet Trump won. Even a diehard Trump supporter should be able to understand why some people would be a little upset that the electoral college subverted the will of the majority of American voters.

    And to address another one of your points, the vast majority of recounts have never changed the vote counts by more than a few hundred votes. I think the largest ever was 1,200 in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Even if a recount of Durham county brought Cooper's lead below 10,000, a state wide recount following that has no chance of overturning 9k+ more votes. Not unless NC experienced unprecedented voter fraud not seen anywhere in the history of US politics, and where is the evidence for THAT?

    Paying for McCrory's completely futile effort to hold on to power is not an appropriate use of a single cent of tax payer money

  • Danielle White Dec 1, 2016
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    Seriously! Unfortunately, I have little confidence that he will go quietly even then.

  • Lee Rogers Dec 1, 2016
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    She is paying 100% of the legally mandated costs defined by State law. If they underestimated those costs then they need to correct that and that is on them.

  • Rick Nolte Dec 1, 2016
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    I'm guessing halfway through the Durham recount, the division will grow beyond the necessary 10,000 and the issue will be over.

  • Angus Young Dec 1, 2016
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    You realize that you are WRONG. It is going to cost the taxpayers of Michigan more than $4 million while Stein is only paying a fee of $970,000.
    “Most of that cost, if not all of it, should be handled by the fee,” Stein said. “And if some of it is not, you know, democracy is not free.”

  • Clif Bardwell Dec 1, 2016
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    Read a lot, and rather than quote and address individual remarks, I'll just make my comments in general.

    First off, why the fear of a recount? And don't give me all the felgercarb about the cost, it's minimal to insure a true and valid election.

    Second, y'all are ok with the governor's election results, but not the president? That's when you start chanting "not my president!"

    Third, should the election officially go to Mr. Cooper, it's still not a mandate against HB2. Almost all the state's General Assembly who created and voted for HB2 were re-elected. Mr. McCrory, while agreeing with HB2, only signed it.

    Finally, quit whining and let the process take place.

  • Judy Loftin Dec 1, 2016
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  • Clarence Hill Nov 30, 2016
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    Shu-u-u-u, let's be quiet and wait to se the results.