Richard Robert Rawling, 59, a former elections worker in Durham County, North Carolina, was indicted on Monday by a grand jury for mishandling provisional ballot results during the March 2016 primary election. He was charged on the counts of obstruction of justice and failure to discharge a duty of his office. The former is a felony while the latter is a misdemeanor.
After an investigation by the state elections board, Rawling was alleged to have ordered his subordinates to run provisional ballots through vote tabulators more than once, while he allegedly made manual changes to the ballot count so the results of the provisional canvass would match the number of approved provisional ballots.
A routine audit of primary vote results in April 2016 uncovered the ploy. The audit found that a number of ballots had gone missing, ballots that should not have counted were counted, some ballots were counted twice, and handled so that elections officials could not distinguish ballots that should count from those that should not. North Carolina’s Election Director, Kim Strach, said in 2016 that what happened “shouldn't have happened, and we're going do everything we can to identify how it happened and make sure it never happens again."
Durham County Board of Elections Chairman William Brian provided the following statement:
"A discrepancy relating to the provisional ballots cast during the March 15th primary election was discovered within a week after the local canvass. After a brief internal investigation by the Durham County Director of Elections, it was determined that this discrepancy could not be resolved and the matter immediately was referred to the State Board of Elections. The members of the Durham County Board of Elections also were informed, as was the office of the Durham County Attorney. The State Board of Elections has been conducting an investigation, with which the Durham County Board of Elections has been cooperating fully.
"According to the State Board of Elections and the Durham County Board of Elections’ own calculations, the number of provisional ballots in question is not enough to affect any local races.”
Strach said last year that there were not enough votes in question to affect the outcome of any election, either in Durham or statewide. However, some voters were prevented from expressing their franchise to vote as is their right.
Provisional ballots are supposed to provide a safety net to ensure that eligible voters aren't excluded from the process due to an issue that's not their fault.
"The State Board's top priority is ensuring the integrity of elections so voters have confidence in the process," Strach said this week. "We will continue to hold accountable elections workers and voters who violate election laws."
Rawling worked for the Durham County Board of Elections during the March 15 primary. However, he soon resigned. Derek Bowens, the former elections director in New Hanover County, took over as Durham County's elections director.
Durham County was one of only two counties in North Carolina where the percentage of voters who pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election exceeded 70 percent. North Carolina as a whole voted for Donald Trump. The city of Durham is located in Durham County, while Chapel Hill -- which is home to the University of North Carolina -- is in the adjacent county.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.