Durham Elections Head: McCrory Vote Surge Unlikely There
It's unlikely Gov. Pat McCrory will find the surge of extra votes in heavily Democratic Durham County the Republican needs to reverse Attorney General Roy Cooper's statewide lead and win re-election, the county's GOP elections board chairman said Tuesday.
McCrory's campaign has filed a formal protest over the 94,000 votes cast during early balloting that weren't reported until late on election night after an equipment failure. A GOP lawyer is expected to present evidence of Election Day wrongful or illegal conduct to the Durham elections board on Wednesday backing the governor's demand for a quick, manual recount.
The equipment glitch forced a tedious process of manually entering the early ballots late on Nov. 8, and mistakes were possible, county elections board head William Brian Jr. said at a news conference. But multiple elections officials were watching as the results were tallied and spot-checks also were performed that night, he said. Durham County voted heavily for Democrat Roy Cooper both before and during Election Day, Brian said.
"There was no wildly disharmonious result," Brian said. "If the returns had been reported at 7:30 (p.m. when polls closed), they would have been the same numbers as were reported at 11:30. It just took us that long to input them into the machines. There's nothing the least bit odd about any of it."
The focus on Durham County's votes is likely to sharpen as McCrory and Cooper continue waging their too-close-to-call contest. Cooper led Tuesday in unofficial results by about 5,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.
In the background is the fact that North Carolina's top criminal investigations agency two weeks ago began looking into whether there was wrongdoing in last spring's primary election in the county.
The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether crimes were committed in the mishandling of more than 1,000 provisional ballots in March. Some may have been counted twice and election officials presented the vote count as true when it was wrong, according to an interim report presented to the state elections board in May. The miscount didn't affect the primary's outcome.
Brian blamed the March problems on a "rogue employee having messed with the ballots." He bristled about suggestions by a Wake County Superior Court judge last week and McCrory partisans this week that Durham County has a history of mishandled elections.
"There has been some loose language that's been used by some of the people who have a stake in the outcome of the election," Brian said. "We have seen no evidence whatsoever that there has been any inaccuracy or problem with the early returns that were reported on Election Day."
Gerry Cohen, a Raleigh attorney who formerly advised state General Assembly leaders, expects Republicans will get their wish for a manual recount of Durham County's 94,000 early ballots. But the McCrory-Cooper race still likely has twists ahead since thousands of absentee ballots favoring Republicans — and provisional ballots that favor Democrats — have yet to be counted, Cohen said.
"We're setting the stage for a long process," he said.
That process could involve appeals, lawsuits and even, ultimately, the Republican-dominated General Assembly deciding the next governor.
That happened in 2004, when the election for state schools superintendent was settled by state lawmakers. The Democratic-led Legislature chose Democrat June Atkinson the following August. The race had been marred by about 4,400 lost ballots from Carteret County and a legal battle over whether out-of-precinct votes should be counted.
The Legislature's GOP majority may favor McCrory in that scenario, but "to do that, you have to have some factual allegations," Cohen said. "Whether or not he could take it to the Legislature depends on, several weeks from now, what issues remain."