Elections

Durham County Board of Elections to evaluate poll problems

Rachael Riley; rriley@heraldsun.com

DURHAM -- As members of Durham County’s Board of Elections processed absentee ballots and tabulated write-in votes Wednesday, the cause of technical glitches at polls Tuesday remained a mystery.

Bill Brian, the board’s president, said problems with electronic poll books reported early Tuesday will be investigated in the near future.

“But we haven’t started anything substantive just yet because we’re still in the process of trying to finish up yesterday’s election,” Brian said Wednesday.

According to the state Board of Elections, 153,870 of Durham County’s 232,426 voters cast ballots.

As soon as polls opened Tuesday, some six polling sites reported issues with the electronic poll books used to check-in voters, said BOE Chief of Staff and Interim Director Kate Cosner.

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

Durham County first used the electronic VR Systems election equipment in March.

Brian said the contract to change from manual poll books to the electronic version was made in late 2015 at the recommendation of the board’s former director to speed up the process at the polls.

“The one problem we always have is that people complain that they had to stand in line. What that means varies from election to election,” Brian said “Sometimes people stand in really long lines over an hour -- that’s a long line. Sometimes they stand in line for 20 minutes and they complain, and it’s kind of difficult to control that.”

Both electronic and paper poll books were at polls Tuesday.

“The so-called emergency backup plan is to use the paper books because you never know when you’re going to lose power,” Brian said.

A plan was in place, which he said was effective.

At about 9:30 a.m. Cosner learned about delays at the Bethesda Ruritan Club polling site at 1714 S. Miami Blvd., and spoke to the chief judge who said the site ran out of paper authorization to vote forms and provisional supplies, which were on their way.

The judge told voters in line about the forms and asked them to wait, Cosner said.

“Some voters left, but they left on their own accord,” she said. “Nobody was turned away.”

According to state statute, if polls “are interrupted for more than 15 minutes after opening, the state board of elections may extend the closing times by an equal number of minutes.”

Brian said once the board learned about the situation at Bethesda, it asked the state board for an extension at that site.

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 for two extra hours to compensate for the glitches.

“Do not be deterred or discouraged, we will fight the legal battles, you have to fight the battle against discouragement,” said the Rev. William J. Barber.

Brian said the reason why the decision to extend voting times at eight of the county’s sites came later in the day was because the state board, which granted the extension, did not meet until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

In the meantime, Veronica DeGraffenreid, elections preparation and support manager for the state BOE, was in the area.

County employees were sent to all of the county’s 57 precincts to ask the chief judges if there had been any interruptions and how long they had lasted.

The information was shared with both the Durham County and state BOE.

Durham County’s BOE recommended the state extend hours at eight locations based on the information.

The request was to extend those sites by an hour and half to maintain uniformity, Brian said.

However the state looked at each of the recommended sites and made a recommendation to extend hours from 20 minutes to an hour, based on the reported delay times.

Brian said he did not know how many people voted after the extension was granted, but estimated 1,700 provisional ballots were cast, which the board will evaluate next Thursday.

EARLY VOTES

Among other technical malfunctions, cards with results from five early voting precincts did not properly upload to the county’s computers.

Brian said once a ballot is in the machine, the ballot is recorded on both tape and a card.

Because of the problem with the card, Durham County’s BOE consulted with the state and decided to finish the cards coming from remaining precincts and wait for the five early voting cards.

Once all precincts came in, one of the cards had the same problems as the five early voting ones.

The board finalized all other precincts, and then manually entered the data from the six remaining cards that was recorded on the tapes.

“In order to do that we had a Republican, a Democrat, a person from the state board and the director of elections sitting there running through them and reading off the tape and reading off the numbers, while the director of elections entered that information into the computer by hand, and a person with the state board observed the whole thing,” Brian said.

The process took about an hour and a half, and a cross check was conducted to see if final numbers were consistent with what was on the tapes.

That is is why 90,000 votes were loaded at 11:45 p.m., Brian said.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Brian said the computers are being checked to determined what happened with the equipment.

“There’s always something, there’s always one or two precincts that will have long lines. There’s always a precinct that will run out of supplies. It’s just the nature of elections,” he said.

From the board’s standpoint, he said the logistics are to ensure everyone has the opportunity to vote in accordance with the law.

“There’s this notion that there was this meltdown in Durham, and that is absolutely not true,” Brian said. “ It was there was just a few problems and those problems were dealt with.”

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