This story has been updated on Wednesday at 3:49 p.m.
While the state’s criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of primary election ballots continues, the 892 Durham residents whose provisional ballots were in question in March will be allowed to re-vote by mail from July 11-22.
Official results, with the new totals, are expected by August 12. However, the number of ballots in question will not affect the outcome of any contest, including the county commission.
Even though state officials announced on May 31 that they would mail and count the ballots, the local board — surprisingly — will now be in charge of that process, said Durham Board of Elections Deputy Director Sam Gedman at a public meeting tonight. He referred to an email that local elections officials received from the state board today at 2:18 p.m.
“It’s the first we had heard of it,” added local BOE member Margaret Cox Griffin.
Update: On Wednesday, State Board of Elections spokesperson Jackie Hyland told BCR that the agency is preparing "formal guidance" for the local board. Hyland added that there is no update on the criminal investigation.
The local meeting concluded after the State Board of Elections had closed for the day, so those officials could not be reached immediately for comment.
In March, the Durham elections board had approved or partially approved 1,039 provisional ballots that had then been entered into the state’s election management system, also known as the provisional module. However, during the March 22 count, also known as the official canvass, the board and staff noticed the numbers of paper ballots and those entered into the tabulator did not reconcile.
In addition, a temporary elections employee had told Durham Director Michael Perry that an elections staff member had instructed her to run some ballots twice in order to reconcile the numbers.
The local and state board have not publicly identified that staff member, but according to documents obtained by Bull City Rising in an open records request, the employee in question resigned on March 29. The only elections department employee who resigned that day was Elections Administrator Richard Rawling, according to county personnel records.
A volunteer also reported that a satchel of ballots had disappeared, but neither a state nor a local investigation has not confirmed that allegation. “We don’t know if any are missing,” said Durham Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian.
Several members of the public asked the Durham board who would oversee the counting of ballots. Brian said there would “probably be a state observer, but if you want one, you [the public] should ask the state board for one.”
County commissioner candidates Michael Page, Fred Foster, and Elaine Hyman, who lost the election, filed official protests over the results. However, if even any of those candidates won all of the disputed ballots, the number would still not be enough for them to win.
The winning school board candidates, Steven Unruhe, Minnie Forte-Brown and Xavier Cason, will be sworn in July 1. The outcome of those races would not be altered by the provisional counts. Forte-Brown and Cason ran unopposed; Unruhe won by more than 15,000 votes over Frederick Ravin III.