Durham County extends voting hours at sites after electronic poll glitches

Rachael Riley; rriley@heraldsun.com

DURHAM -- An unknown electronic glitch early Tuesday morning led to eight of Durham County’s 57 poll sites having extended voting times past the 7:30 p.m. deadline.

Durham County Board of Elections board members met in an emergency meeting Tuesday evening to determine which sites were affected by electronic voter check-in problems earlier in the morning

“Asking us to do a blanket extension of time for the entire county is without legal basis,” said Bill Brian, chairman of the Durham County Board of Elections.

Brian said statute allows for extensions, if problems at the polls resulted in a shutdown of 15 minutes or more.

Durham County’s BOE determined eight sites were affected by 20 minutes to up to 2 hours by the morning glitches.

The sites were the Forest Hills Club House, Greater Emmanuel Temple of Grace, Creekside Elementary School, Glenn Elementary School, Bethesda Ruritan Club, Neal Middle School, Cole Mill Road Church of Christ and McMannen United Methodist Church.

The state BOE allowed the affected polls to stay open from 20 minutes to an hour.

Seven of the locations were vetted by Durham County employees who were sent to the 57 precincts to speak only to the chief judge to see what problems were experienced, said Kate Cosner, interim director for Durham County BOE.

Those surveys were coordinated with Veronica DeGraffenreid, elections preparation and support manager for the state BOE.

Residents Tammy Washington and Susan Schaeffer testified to Durham County’s BOE of problems they saw at the Glenn Elementary School site.

Washington said at about 8:15 a.m. she noticed people leaving the poll site because there wasn’t paper poll books to check in voters.

She said it took more than an hour for the election judge to receive the manual books.

“We noticed people was going straight to the door and coming straight back,” she said.

Geri Nettles was one of the county employees who told the board what she saw at the North Carolina Central University site, though it was not granted extended polling hours.

Nettles said she thinks the transition from electronic to paper poll books had a trickle effect.

She said she only observed two voters, but 11 vacant slots and 150 people in line.

“I went to the front of the line and asked how long they waited, and they said 2.5 hours,” Nettles said.

Brian said lines did not merit an extension and that the board would need proof, or sworn statements that the poll had shut down for more than 15 minutes.

What happened:

Cosner, who is working her first election in Durham County, said it’s her understanding the Durham County BOE first started using the VR Systems election equipment in March.

As soon as polls opened Tuesday, Cosner said about six polling sites reported issues with the electronic poll books.

A decision was made to go to the manual poll books, which Cosner said the state BOE said was the best course of action.

Cosner said she’s not clear on what caused the glitches and couldn’t comment until the county received the laptops back to investigate.

At about 9:30 a.m. she learned about delays at the Bethesda site and spoke to the chief judge who said the site ran out of paper authorization to vote forms and provisional supplies, which was on the way.

“She told the voters that were standing in line that she ran out of the forms and the computers were shut down, per our directive and asked the voters to wait,” Cosner said. “They understood. Some voters left, but they left on their own accord. Nobody was turned away.”

The North Carolina NAACP, the Forward Together Coalition and the Election Protection Coalition requested the state BOE allow all of Durham County’s polls to remain open by two hours to compensate for the glitches.

“We urge all North Carolina voters to stay at the polls until they have voted,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. “Do not be deterred or discouraged, we will fight the legal battles, you have to fight the battle against discouragement.”

During the afternoon, the Durham County BOE voted to request the state extend hours at the Bethesda site, and directed there an evaluation of the other sites.