NC elections board stymied after chairman's resignation
The State Board of Elections met Thursday to discuss approving new voting machines, but a partisan deadlock created by Chairman Robert Cordle's resignation caused the board to adjourn without taking any action.Posted — Updated
Hours before his resignation, the elections board agreed to hold another vote on certifying new voting machines for counties to use. About a third of North Carolina's voters live in counties that use touchscreen machines, which lawmakers want phased out by the end of the year so that a paper trail exists for each vote.
That decision was to be finalized later this month.
That split was evident Thursday, when Black's motion to rescind Monday's vote failed on a tie vote.
Some election security experts say hackers could easily alter the barcodes on ballots and voters wouldn't be able to tell their votes had been changed, but others say that's unlikely.
Black, a Republican, said the bidding process on the new voting machines has gone on for years, and because the original rules didn't forbid barcodes, it's unfair to the vendors to change the rules at the last minute.
But board member Stella Anderson, a Democrat, said voters should have the most secure systems available.
"We are considering, literally, a change that involves what constitutes a vote and how a vote would be counted," Anderson said. "The voters in those counties will be voting on this equipment for 10, maybe 15, years. We have to get this right."
The board is set to meet again on Aug. 23, by which time a fifth member – and tie-breaking vote – could be in place.
Ford Porter, a spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, said the governor is waiting for the North Carolina Democratic Party to submit the names of nominees for the open seat. Once that happens, Porter said, an appointment should follow quickly.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, two legislative leaders on election issues, sent Cooper a letter Wednesday, suggesting he appoint Gerry Cohen, a former long-time staff attorney at the legislature. Cohen said Thursday he was flattered and willing to serve, but that he did not seek out the recommendation.
When asked where he would come down on hand-marked ballots, he said he wasn't sure.
"I would need to review the statute and the rules and see a demonstration of it," Cohen said. "Personally, I like the Wake County system (of hand-marked ballots) ... but I wouldn't pre-judge.
"Anyone that assumes that I would vote one way or another doesn't know me," he said.
Lawmakers could again delay the deadline for getting rid of the touchscreen machines if counties don't have enough time to buy, test and train on new machines before next year's elections. Counties can also buy hand-marked ballot systems like Wake County uses, which remain certified.
The trouble with that plan, though, is that counties need ADA-compliant systems for disabled voters who can't mark their own ballots with a pen. Without a new certification vote, or an extension for touchscreens currently in use, the only certified, ADA-compliant system in the state will be the AutoMARK, which board staffers have said is no longer manufactured.