The board voted 3-2 along party lines to recount more than 90,000 votes reported late on the night of the election because of a software problem.
The recount order comes as Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, continues to question the results of the election and refuses to concede to his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper.
As the board heard in testimony from Durham board members and software experts Wednesday, the votes were tabulated late because elections workers were unable to read data from six memory cards used to record votes.
The software failed to aggregate the data from five of the cards because the number of votes went beyond the limits of its available memory. It’s suspected that the sixth card may have suffered from a battery problem.
Election officials told the board ballot totals were read from paper tapes and transcribed for reporting to the state while observers from both parties were on hand to monitor them.
The vote counts were challenged by N.C. GOP attorney Thomas Stark, a resident of Durham. Stark conceded Wednesday he hadn’t offered substantial evidence the totals weren’t reliable, but said a reasonable suspicion existed because of irregularities.
The state board’s three Republican members agreed.
“Right now I think we have a taint,” said state board member Rhonda Amoroso.
Amoroso said a partial recount probably won’t change the result of the gubernatorial election, but enough of a “dark cloud” hangs over the Durham results that it’s worth checking them anyway.
Board member Joshua Malcolm, a Democrat, strongly disagreed. State statute makes it clear substantial evidence must be presented of a problem that would impact the results of the election, he said – and that standard wasn’t met.
Fellow Democratic board member Maja Kricker agreed.
“There’s no question of a real error in Durham,” she said. “A difficulty reporting results isn’t a tabulation error.”
Board member James Baker disagreed. A failure of cards to successfully report the results from voting machines can’t be called anything but an irregularity, he said – and constitutes a “mammoth problem” that cast doubt on the election’s results.
“What harm would it do to scan these votes and count them?” Baker said. “It’s not likely to change anything but it’s enough of a irregularity to make the people wonder.”
The McCrory campaign praised the state board’s decision Wednesday night.
“We are pleased that the state board of elections has recognized the voting irregularities in Durham County and we will respect whatever the results show,” McCrory campaign manager Russell Peck said in a news release.
Cooper campaign manager Trey Nix said the recount won’t change the results.
“We are confident that this recount will confirm Roy Cooper’s election as governor of North Carolina,” Nix said in a statement Wednesday. “It is wrong that Governor McCrory continues to waste taxpayer money with false accusation and attempts to delay and that the Republican controlled board of elections did not follow the law.”
Cooper claimed victory on election night, when he ended the night about 5,000 votes ahead of McCrory. But the governor insisted absentee and provisional ballots needed to be counted before the result could be known. Cooper’s lead grew steadily as more ballots were tallied – on Wednesday passing the 10,000 vote margin that would preclude the statewide recount McCrory has already requested. McCrory’s campaign has launched a series of election challenges and protests, alleging fraud and voting irregularities in more than half of the state’s 100 counties.
County boards of election rejected McCrory’s challenges last week, leading his campaign to ask the state board of election to take over investigations into claims of fraud and irregularities. The board declined, telling county boards to reject the governor’s protests challenging voter eligibility.
The partial recount is likely to push back the finalizing of the election results.
A federal lawsuit over same-day registration in the election was also brought by the conservative Civitas Institute last week. A preliminary hearing in that suit is scheduled for next week.
Click below to watch Board of Election members debate the merits of the Durham recount.