Voter disenfranchisement, lost votes, and counting irregularitiesAs a basic guarantee of electoral fairness, all voters should feel secure that they will not be subject to discrimination or intimidation during an election, and that their votes will all be counted fairly and consistently. Over the past election cycle, a number of irregularities in counties across North Carolina have appeared to challenge this. These have included disputes about provisional ballots, unreliable voting and counting equipment, and administrative errors. In some cases, the problems were severe enough to call the outcome of elections into question.
The most extreme problems occurred in Gaston and Carteret Counties. Unilect, the supplier of voting equipment to Carteret County, failed to tell officials that voting machines could only store 3000 votes. As a result, over 4000 votes were lost after the memories of the machines became full during early voting. Since the margin between the first two candidates was less than 4000 in one state-wide race (for Commissioner for Agriculture), the State Board had to make a decision about how to had to proceed. The board initially ordered a revote within the county, in which only those whose votes were lost, or who failed to participate the first time round can vote, but this was struck down in court. The revised decision called for a new statewide election, at an estimated cost of $3 million. This solution too has been rejected by the court, and months after the general election, how the race will be decided remains unsettled.
In Gaston, election officials failed to include 12,000 votes in their unofficial vote totals. These uncounted votes included almost all of the early votes, as well as an entire precinct in Dallas. It took six days, after media reports pointed out that the totals of the number of people recorded as having voted and the ballots counted didn't match, for the local Board of Elections to notice its mistake. Gaston County officials were also censured by the State Board of Elections for allowing an employee of Diebold, the makers of their voting machines, to transfer ballots to the central vote-tabulation computer without sufficient supervision. This may be where the irregularities originated. The fiasco led to the resignation of both the county Elections Director and the Board of Elections chairman, following a meeting with the state board. The failings of the county board of elections illustrate many of the dangers of having a fragmented voting system, where rules are unclear or inconsistently applied.
North Carolina deserves elections of the highest possible quality. For this to happen, past problems need to be confronted so that real solutions can be reached.