- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - In light of finding Durham County elections workers had counted dozens more votes than had actually been cast, the State Board of Elections has decided to scratch 892 provisional ballots and mail out new ballots to those voters more than two months later.

In a meeting to finalize the results of the March 15 primary, the board voted unanimously to approve only 147 provisional ballots that could be checked for eligibility and moved to send out new ballots to voters whose ballots could not be verified.

The decision came out of a state investigation into discrepancies in the Durham County election primaries that found the state only had physical copies for 980 provisional ballots, despite having approved or partially approved 1,039 provisional ballots to count toward final election totals.

A voter casts a provisional ballot in a number of circumstances, such as when an elections worker doesn’t have a record of the person’s registration or the voter failed to provide photo identification or report a move. The voter fills out a ballot and other information. Local election officials determine later whether the person was qualified to vote. If so, their ballot is approved or partially approved and included in the totals.

Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach told the board she believes some of the provisional ballots were tabulated twice. It is a low-grade felony for an election worker to knowingly falsify election returns and the board is continuing its investigation into whether any Durham County election workers will be charged with criminal activity.

Determining which of the 1,039 ballots should count couldn’t be done because some provisional ballots are only partially approved to count toward specific races, Strach said. And two different election computer systems came up with different tallies on how the 1,039 were allocated among the four partisan ballot choices: Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and unaffiliated.

Strach said provisional ballots, by law, cannot be tracked but 147 ballots were accidentally marked with identifiers during early absentee voting. Those ballots could be tracked back to the voter, so the board was able to establish which races the ballots could apply toward and accurately apply them to official totals.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board peppered Durham County Board of Elections chair Bill Brian with questions about the county procedures for vote counting, and some Durham County residents said the irregularities in the primary have tainted their faith in the integrity of the election process. Elaine Hyman, who ran for Durham County commissioner but did not win, called for a new election.

“I want to see the extent of the problems in this election and I don’t know how this affects previous elections,” said Elections Board member Maja Kricker. “This is very serious. Very serious. It’s not simply a minor error and I think we need to get to the bottom of it.”

The new ballots will be sent after the June 7 primaries.

Strach said the board conducted several other investigations to ensure election accuracy. The board also found a box of 18 absentee mail-in ballots that had been approved but left unopened. Strach said one-stop early voting numbers and election day voting numbers aligned with initial tabulations.

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