[Image via dconc]
As I mentioned yesterday, Election Day went very smoothly for most of the nation – which is good for the country and the election community, but can be uncomfortable for any jurisdictions where problems do arise because they tend to stand out. It can be even more difficult when the problems arise in a state where results are being closely scrutinized for their political impact.
Meet Durham County, North Carolina.
The county election office has already seen its share of problems this year; the office is under the supervision of an acting director after the current director went out on medical leave. Before that, there was a controversy following the March primary where provisional ballots were mishandled and/or went missing – which resulted in resignations and has since been referred to the DA and now the State Bureau of Investigation.
The November election didn’t go well, either.
For some reason, several of the County’s electronic pollbooks misfired in the morning, leading the County to switch to back to an all-paper system, which slowed voter check-ins and led to long lines. Worse, precincts ran out of necessary forms (which would have been generated by the e-pollbooks) leading to more delays. That, in turn, led to a request for an extension of polling hours countywide which was supported by the County but rejected by the State Board of Elections in favor of limited extensions of up to an hour in eight precincts.
After polls closed, Durham County had to hand-enter early voting results into state totals, delaying results for the state’s hotly-contested Presidential and gubernatorial races. And yesterday, the County revealed that it had omitted mail-in absentee and write-in totals from the results reported to the state.
Needless to say, Durham County’s travails will likely feature prominently in what could well be a recount in the nationally-watched governor’s race.
I’m not sure what lessons there are to learn from Durham – at least not until we know more about what went wrong, both in March and November. But the County’s travails are a vivid reminder of the value of contingency planning and an object lesson for election offices who see what is happening in North Carolina and think (or even say out loud) “there but for the grace of the election gods go I.”
You can bet there will be more on this story. Stay tuned …