The months-long investigation into whether there was any foul play during
15 primary elections in Durham County has been handed over to state law enforcement officials.
The March primary was called into question after the county board of elections discovered, after a small internal investigation, that provisional ballots had gone missing or been counted more than once, leading the State Board of Elections to launch an investigation.
Earlier this month, the state board gave its information to Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols. He told the INDY today that he has given that information to the State Bureau of Investigations. Because of the nature of the allegations, Echols said, he didn’t consider sending it to another agency.
While Echols couldn’t comment on whether or not criminal charges would come from the SBI’s investigation, election tampering is a felony in North Carolina.
In April, the state board was alerted of discrepancies in the provisional ballot count and conducted an audit. The investigation was announced in May and, at the time, the public was told that there were missing votes in an election that saw two incumbent members of the Board of County Commissioners losing their seats. Eventually three candidates contested the results and called for a new election. In late May, the state board decided to allow for a recasting of some ballots after it determined that, of 1,039 provisionally approved or partially approved ballots at the center of the investigation, there were only physical records for 980 of them. The number of votes that needed to be recast was too low to change the results of any of the races.
According to emails sent between Durham County Board of Elections Director Michael Perry (who is currently on leave) and board chairman Bill Brian on March 28, it was clear that the county was about three hundred ballots short and that a tote with a “large number of unopened ballots” was missing.
One employee was put in charge of the ballots at the time, according to the emails, and that employee became uncooperative with the board staff. He resigned the next day—March 29—via a handwritten note. While the board declined to identify the employee in question, personnel records from the county show only one employee resigned in March—Richard Rawling, an elections administrator.
Rawling could not immediately be reached for comment.