Durham County recount ordered in undecided governors race

The N.C. State Board of Elections agreed to order a recount of 94,000 late entry early voting ballots from Durham County that vaulted Attorney General Roy Cooper to a slim lead over Gov. Pat McCrory

Gerry Broome—AP
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Roy Cooper

RALEIGH — The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted Wednesday evening in favor of recounting approximately 94,000 Durham County ballots after hearing testimony for and against the measure. The decision adds yet another wrinkle to an as yet inconclusive race for governor that has been defined by official protests and allegations of voter fraud.The State Board of Elections said the recount must be complete by 7 p.m. Monday.Tom Stark, a Durham attorney, presented the case for a recount, focusing on inconsistencies in Durham County’s tabulation results as they were transcribed from data cards nearly two decades old.”So, all we have is that we have an error in the reporting of these PCM-CIA cards,” said Stark at the hearing. “The way that we can find out if there’s a discrepancy is we can count the votes.”Representing Roy Cooper’s campaign and the N.C. Democratic Party in the hearing was Seattle-based attorney Kevin Hamilton, who was retained for his experience in election law and recounts. Hamilton argued during his testimony that state law sets parameters for establishing irregularities that warrants recounts, and that Stark’s testimony did not satisfy the requirements to warrant such action.”What’s the legal standard? The legal standard is simple, and it’s clear, and not subject to reasonable debate,” said Hamilton. “Under North Carolina law this board must dismiss a protest unless there is ‘substantial evidence’ of any violation, irregularity or misconduct sufficient to cast doubt on the results of the elections.”Members of the Durham County Board of Elections were also called upon to testify at the hearing and issued an apology for the confusion and uncertainty created by their late-hour submission of the 94,000 early voter ballots that immediately flipped the lead from Gov. Pat McCrory to Cooper.Durham officials explained that while precinct totals were streaming in, they struggled with a choice to stop Election Day precinct tabulations in order to submit early voting results that had not previously been entered due to technology issues. Ultimately they chose to finish Election Day precinct reporting, before submitting the 94,000 early votes late on election night — a decision they said they regret.During rebuttals, Stark was pressed by NCSBE members on the level of evidence of irregularities he was prepared to offer the board, but Stark claimed that such a standard was nearly impossible to meet without taking a second look to compare to initial results.Some of the board members agreed that while explicit evidence was not being offered, the confusion surrounding technology limitations, possible data corruption and transcription errors met their personal threshold for initiating a recount.Republican board member James Baker felt there was enough uncertainty around the Durham County issues to order an expedient recount to instill confidence in the system.”It’s necessary that the public have faith and confidence in the system we have provided,” said Baker. “There was enough of an irregularity to make people wonder.”Baker described his own confusion at the last-minute lead change in the gubernatorial race, adding, “What harm would it do to scan these votes and count them so no one campaign is going to think, ‘Well, why wouldn’t they count those votes? What are they trying to hide?'”Durham County officials estimated a machine recount of the ballots, with all counting assets utilized, would take approximately seven to eight hours to complete.Despite two Democrat members’ skepticism, the notion that botched procedures, open questions about data integrity and the apparent ease of completing a recount carried favor with the two other Republican members of the board.The final decision, three to two along partisan lines, upheld Stark’s appeal and ordered a recount of the Durham County ballots in question.After the vote, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party Dallas Woodhouse praised the decision to recount, noting that everybody wins when the integrity of the election system is confirmed.”Today is a great day for democracy in North Carolina,” said Woodhouse. “What the board found today is there were significant irregularities in Durham that need to be addressed to provide confidence to the voters of North Carolina.”Cooper currently has a greater than 10,000-vote lead over McCrory, though some counties’ initial results are yet to be certified. If the final count yields a margin less than 10,000 a statewide recount can be demanded.