Few would argue that the Durham County Board of Elections botched the March primary. Voters across the county reported having to wait in line for several hours to cast their votes. Then, on May 5, the DCBOE announced that the State Board of Elections would be investigating a discrepancy discovered during an internal audit of the primary. Apparently, some provisional ballotsvotes cast when there is a question about the validity of the voter’s eligibilitywere mishandled by staff.
Three losing candidates in the Durham County commissioners’ raceElaine Hyman, Michael Page, and Fred Foster Jr.formally protested the results. On Friday, the DCBOE held an emergency meeting to discuss these protests. It ended, somewhat improbably, with the DCBOE declaring that “it would not be unreasonable for the State Board of Elections to consider ordering a new primary for Durham County Board of Commissioners to address the public’s concerns.”
A do-over primary would make sense, of course, if the math indicated that the mishandling of the ballots could have affected the outcome. But, as the state and county boards have maintained, that is not the case. There are 759 potential votes up for grabs in the retallying of the county commission race. But the top vote-getting loser, Chairman Michael Page, trailed the last-place winner, newcomer James Hill, by over one thousand votes. Hyman and Foster are even further behind.
Hill, not surprisingly, opposes the idea of re-do. “There is going to be minuscule voter turnout,” Hill saysespecially since many students at Duke and N.C. Central would be on break during a summer primary. Simply put, more people would be disenfranchised by a low-turnout do-over than had their March ballots mishandled.
And in addition to drawing fewer voters, special elections also cost a bunch of money. (The DCBOE declined to guess how much, since it’s unclear whether the re-do will be a standalone or be lumped in with an already-scheduled election.) That’s hard to justify, given that there’s no evidence suggesting the March results weren’t legitimate.
So why do it? Hyman, who supports a new primary, says it’s about restoring confidence in the system.
“When those of us who are candidates step out of that arena and run for public office and do not win, we still want to know the standing,” Hyman says. “Was I number seven, was I number eight, was I number six, or was I number five?”
Ultimately, however, the decision lies with the SBOE, which was expected to render a decision on Tuesday afternoon, after the INDY went to press.