ELLIOT: Eight hours to sunlight

Why did Roy Cooper work so hard to quash a validation of Durham County vote totals?

Eight hours. That’s how long North Carolina elections officials said it would take to retabulate more than 90,000 votes that came in an eleventh-hour dump to push Attorney General Roy Cooper ahead of Gov. Pat McCrory in the gubernatorial race. Eight hours to ensure the integrity of Durham County’s electoral process, one that didn’t go right on election night and has been downright shady recently.While the retabulation fight almost certainly won’t change the election result, it may well change people’s perceptions of Democrats’ unwillingness to shine a light on the electoral process, especially in an election where fraud is almost certain to have happened. (Officials in Bladen County are investigating 300 absentee ballots that appear to have been filled out by just a few people. The ballots contained votes almost exclusively for Democrats.)Bladen’s experience raises the importance of reassuring citizens that this election was fair.The McCrory camp can see the hand writing on the wall, but Republicans know that more is at stake than just the governor’s race.It must be noted that McCrory is almost certain to lose the gubernatorial race to Cooper. By Friday, Cooper’s official lead had grown to 10,263, making it outside of the 10,000-vote margin that would enable McCrory’s campaign to call for a recount (and a recount probably wouldn’t change the outcome anyway).The McCrory campaign has gone from officially demanding a statewide recount to saying it will drop that request if Durham’s late-night surprise is verified. And it has backed off an initial insistence that ballots actually be recounted, settling instead for a retabulation of machine-recorded results. The McCrory camp can see the hand writing on the wall, but Republicans know that more is at stake than just the governor’s race.Secret-ballot elections are fragile things. While privacy offers the opportunity for citizens to vote their true conscience without fear of intimidation or retribution, citizens must also place immense trust in a system that can and has yielded surprising results, from Thomas Dewey’s defeat to Brexit to Donald Trump’s victory.The trade-off is well worth it. Although the dominant news media still tries its best to intimidate voters into choosing their preferred candidates, the “Australian ballot,” as it was known when introduced to the United States in the 19th century, provides citizens with immunity from retribution after they mark their choice in the voting booth. But when private citizens must rely on government agencies to tell them who won — an open ballot would allow anyone to calculate winners — electoral integrity is of supreme importance. Thus, it is quite strange that the Cooper campaign worked so hard to quash the Durham retabulation.In the Nov. 28 hearing, the State Board of Elections spent three hours listening to the two sides argue.”If you have ballots sitting right there and you can go count them in a relatively short period,” argued veteran GOP lawyer Thomas Stark, “why wouldn’t you satisfy yourself that you had an accurate result?”Why indeed? The Cooper campaign flew in a lawyer from Seattle to argue the anti-examination case. The retabulation will take eight hours. A flight from Seattle to Raleigh and back takes 12 hours.Cooper’s campaign manager, Trey Nix, then issued a repetitive and overly beseeching statement: “It’s time for Gov. McCrory to concede. It’s clear there is no path to victory for Gov. McCrory. It’s time for Gov. McCrory to accept the election results and respect the will of the voters.”Doth he protest too much? Perhaps. The elections board voted to go ahead with the retabulation, so after eight hours of work, the result will be known and citizens won’t have to wonder.The remaining wonder is why the Democrats like the shade so much, especially when the sunlight is so near.