We’re on-site, liveblogging commentary and background on the Board’s proceedings, on this page, beginning at 4:00 PM EST Weds, 11/30. Posts appear in reverse chronological order (latest at top). The best tweets to #RigTheVoteNC are included. This page does not auto-refresh; please click your browser’s refresh button occasionally.
7:15 PM EST: Malcolm: “This board is making a great mistake.”
7:13 PM EST: Baker’s motion seconded by Amaroso, passes on party-line vote. McCrory has his recount of Durham County’s 94,000 votes, and lives to railroad democracy for another day.
7:13 PM EST: Baker makes motion to recount. Josh Lawson, the board’s attorney, jumps in to suggest a more careful wording because “we need findings of fact, and y’all haven’t found any findings of fact.”
7:12 PM EST: Amaroso expresses her concerns (bottles up, boys!). “We have a taint. There’s a cloud over Durham County.”
7:10 PM EST: Chairman Whitney tips his hand: he’s in the bag for McCrory, too. “I’m going to vote for the judge’s motion” (to recount).
7:08 PM EST: Kricker (D) now expounding. “If we don’t have an irregularity, but people want a recount anyway, how many additional elections will this occur in? It sets a dangerous precedent to recount for no reason.”
7:06 PM EST: Malcolm (D) jumps the line to respond to Baker. “What harm can it do? It harms the rule of law, and disrespects those who have given their lives to defend it. I disagree strongly with you, sir.” Heated back-and-forth between Malcolm and Baker. They are calling each other “sir” with every sentence, which is what polite people do when they’d rather be punching each other.
7:02 PM EST: Now the board members are discussing among themselves. Baker (R), first. “I don’t have any doubt about the election results at all. I don’t have any doubt at all that Durham County did everything right. BUT – the public doesn’t know that. They saw McCrory up by 50,000 votes, then suddenly down by 5,000 votes. What harm can it do, in my opinion, to recount the votes?”
So Baker shows his cards: he too has the sadz, and wrapping himself in the flag of election integrity, he’s climbing into bed with McCrory. That makes the deciding vote Chairman Whitney (R) himself – he’s the member to decide whether this hearing ends up as a party-line farce…or a celebration of the rule of law.
6:55 PM EST: Hamilton: “There was no violation of law, there was no irregularity. The Durham County board of elections deserves to be applauded, not attacked: they did everything properly. The fact is, elections have surprising results sometimes, and sometimes we’re disappointed by them. But that’s not a reason to ignore the law; it’s a reason to embrace the law.”
6:53 PM EST: NCDP attorney Hamilton’s 10-minute rebuttal is now upon us. “What Mr. Stark offers is a cloud of speculation and guesses. What he doesn’t offer is substantial evidence.”
6:50 PM EST: Stark’s 10-minute rebuttal is over. His entire point was, indeed, “hey, guys, let’s just recount the ballots, whaddaya say, huh?” McCrory should be seeking a refund, not a recount.
6:44 PM EST: Stark is now wobbling off into discussion of “dead voters,” which is entirely outside the subject matter of this appeal.
6:40 PM EST: NC-GOP attorney Stark’s 10 minute rebuttal is now upon us. He disagrees with the staff of the Durham County board of elections who estimate it would take about 7 days to re-count the 94,000 ballots by re-feeding them into the tabulators. Stark can’t recall who told him, but asserts with no evidence that it should only take 7 hours, not 7 days. The point he’s working up to is: “Hey, it’s easy enough to recount the ballots, so why not?” (statutory authority be damned, we guess)
6:36 PM EST: State Board of Elections systems analyst Brian Neesby is now up. He has conducted additional investigations of the PCMCIA cards and the backup tapes. He is confident and “can prove” that the PCMCIA cards are not corrupted and that the data hand-entered from the backup takes corresponds with the data on the cards.
6:31 PM EST: And we’re back. To summarize the proceedings so far: The appellant, NC-GOP attorney Thomas Stark, has brought no more “substantial evidence” to this proceeding than he did to his initial hearing before the Durham County board. But he and his client, McCrory, have the sadz, and so Durham County should recount its ballots. Durham County’s board is supremently confident that there were no problems with the vote tabulation that were not fully solved by their adherence to standard procedures. Everyone on this board already knows how they’re going to vote at the end of this hearing, and that there’s nothing of substance to discuss, but we must discuss it anyway.
6:10 PM EST: Board members wasting time demanding to know why the tabulator software uses two-byte integers. Oy. Chairman Whitney proposes a “bathroom break.” That has to make McCrory nervous.
Our coverage will resume at 6:30.
6:07 PM EST: Engineer from ES&S, the ballot tabulator manufacturer, fielding a few technical basic questions from the board. Amaroso: “Are you a coder?” “No, I’m the product manager at ES&S.” “Are you an engineer?” “No, I’m the product manager.” Amaroso expounds on what a confusing world all this technology stuff is. Her point is utterly unclear, but she got to say something, so there’s that.
6:01 PM EST: State board member Amaroso (R) says that in her opinion there’s a cloud over this election. “So Mr. Hamilton, don’t go back to Washington just yet.” She’s itching to pull McCrory’s fat from the fire by hook or by (dare we say it?) crook.
5:57 PM EST: Durham County board chairman expressing his regret that 94,000 votes came in at 11:45 PM. “We did the best we could in the face of some minor challenges.”
5:51 PM EST: Kricker (D), Malcolm (D) asking questions about how Durham County ballots are deployed and tracked, tabulated, reconciled with voter signature sheets (called ATVs), stored, accounted. Basically, they’re doing everything by the book. Malcolm directs a question to the 3 political appointees to the Durham board: “Is there any question in any of your minds that anything irregular was done with Durham ballots?” All three members answer in chorus: “No sir.”
5:43 PM EST: Hamilton’s time is up. Members of the Durham County Board of Elections are now up. Oddly, Chairman Whitney (R) begins by questioning them on a matter unrelated to the current appeal – a brief problem with electronic poll books that delayed voting for up to 2 hours in 8 precincts. Mercifully, Malcolm redirects the questioning back to the actual subject of Stark’s appeal.
5:41 PM EST: Malcolm (D) reads snippets of crazed comments from a letter the Board received today from state legislator Rucho (R; the principle engineer of the state’s gerrymandered districts). The letter complains that Cooper received more votes in 2016 than Obama did in 2012. Also claims that certain counties’ vote totals exceed their numbers of registered voters. Essentially everyone in the room shrugs and rolls their eyes. That’s our Rucho!
5:33 PM EST: Hamilton wrapping up by reviewing the Stark claims that are new to this appeal, not presented at Durham County hearing. “Rather than take the opportunity to present new evidence, Mr. Stark instead presents a litany of frankly groundless new claims. North Carolina law requires that a protest must be introduced at the county level first. Mr. Stark didn’t do that.”
5:26 PM EST: Malcolm (D): “What do you say to Mr. Stark’s assertion that we don’t know how many absentee ballots were cast?” Hamilton: “That’s simply wrong. The tabulators count the ballots. I don’t understand Mr. Stark’s assertion.” Malcolm: “I don’t understand it either, that’s why I asked.”
Hamilton: “If a candidate comes to the Board and says ‘I don’t have any evidence, but I’m not comfortable with the count,’ that’s not the permitted basis for protesting an election result.’
5:23 PM EST: Hamilton: “Mr. Stark can be as suspicious as he wants. But absent substantial evidence, the appeal should fail.”
5:15 PM EST: Hamilton isn’t even bothering to attack Stark’s cornucopia of arguments. He is simply establishing, in detail, the many ways in which the appeal’s speculations are not based on any substantial evidence, which is the statutory hurdle to protest an election.
[Editorial comment] Stark brought no new evidence to this hearing. He made the same rather embarrassing and disjointed arguments that all but got him laughed out of the Durham County hearing two weeks ago. Long story short: McCrory’s attorney has got nuthin.
5:07 PM EST: Hamilton reminds the Board that at the Durham County Board hearing of Stark’s protest, Stark’s own witness testified that the manual entry of the vote data, overseen by bipartisan teams, “all seemed reasonable to me.”
5:07 PM EST: Hamilton picks right up where Malcolm left off. Cites the statutory requirement that an election protest must be based on substantial evidence, “and Mr. Stark’s testimony, notice of appeal, offers no substantial evidence. He does not impeach any of the expert testimony. Mr. Stark’s argument is an insufficient basis to protest an election. He simply failed to do that. And so the appeal should be dismissed. Further, Mr. Stark’s statements are simply false.”
5:02 PM EST: Stark wants to mention “one last thing.” NC-GOP wants to inspect Durham County’s absentee-by-mail envelopes. Malcolm (D) reminds Stark that he lacks the all-important secret sauce, “substantial evidence.”
Dem atty Kevin Hamilton (representing Cooper and NCDP) now up. As Stark leaves the room, I notice that he’s drenched in sweat.
5:00 PM EST: Chairman Whitney informs Stark that he has 3 minutes left. Stark has blown his whole 30 minutes in rambling nonsense. But hey, he’s paid by the hour.
4:57 PM EST: We have descended into a situation where a bunch of folks who probably can’t reboot their own modems are arguing the fine points of SPP files, PCMCIA card ‘corruption’, two-byte integers, etc. Oy.
4:54 PM EST: Stark injects a weird note about an SBI (State Bureau of Investigations) investigation in Durham County concerning some alleged irregularities back in the March primary election. Malcolm (D) basically goes the attorney’s equivalent of ballistic. “Why are you bringing that up here? Are you suggesting that’s relevant to the current hearing?” Stark: (argle-bargle).
Stark now preaching about the integrity of elections. Zzzz.
4:48 PM EST: Stark is drifting off course again, alluding to possible hacking of PCMCIA cards. Amaroso (R) is helping: “How old is this technology?” “Mid-90s.” “And what year are we in now?” “2016.” Malcolm (D), annoyed, chimes in: “You said at our last hearing that you read somewhere on the internet that PCMCIA cards can be hacked. Do you have any experts here today to testify about that?” “No.”
4:43 PM EST: Malcolm is totally on his game, appears to have memorized every word of prior testimony from the Durham hearing.
Stark: “It would be easier to just run the ballots through the tabulator again than it would be to continue with this hearing.”
Malcolm: “As an attorney yourself, you do recognize the importance of the rule of law, don’t you Mr. Stark?”
4:41 PM EST: Malcolm (D) is grilling Stark pretty mercilessly, clearly frustrated by Stark’s weak and wandering charges.
4:38 PM EST: Stark concern-trolling that the affected 6 tabulator machines were not constantly watched by someone while they were locked up. Board member Malcolm (D) interrupts Stark. “Are you suggesting there was something wrong with those six machines? Then what about the other 444 machines?”
4:36 PM EST: Stark reviewing the technical problem in Durham as testified to by a State Board of Elections expert and the tabulator manufacturer’s rep. Claims info from the tabulator company that if the machine’s PCMCIA card is defective, then the machine can’t print its peper audit tape. In the audience, Board business systems analyst, Mr. Neesby, has that look on his face that a techie gets when he’s listening to an old man talking about tech stuff he clearly doesn’t understand.
4:31 PM EST: Stark begins by reviewing matters not related to his appeal: one provisional ballot accidentally tabulated (and subsequently discounted) in a Durham County precinct (oh, the humanity!).
4:30 PM EST: Appellant Stark begins his statement.
4:29 PM EST: Kricker’s motion is shot down on a 3-2 party line vote.
4:28 PM EST: Kricker (D): “I object to throwing the kitchen sink into this appeal.”
4:30 PM EST: Amaroso: “But my concern is…” Cheers, gents and ladies.
4:24 PM EST: Kricker, having arrived late, is anything but flustered. Makes the first motion of the day, asking to limit discussion to Stark’s original protest (technical issues regarding tabulation), and not the myriad additional issues Stark wrote into his appeal document. Board member Amaroso (R) expresses concerns. If you’re playing the Amaroso Drinking Game, it’s time for your first shot.
4:23 PM EST: Chairman Whitney introducing GOP atty Stark’s appeal, and the ground rules. Stark gets 30 minutes, then Dem atty Hamilton gets 30, then we’ll hear from members of the Durham County Board of Elections, then Strach and Hamilton get 10 minute rebuttals.
4:19 PM EST: Whew. Board member Kricker (D) has shown up.
4:16 PM EST: Board’s going to handle housekeeping matters while waiting for member Kricker to arrive.
4:12 PM EST: Chairman Whitney points out to the room that Board member Kricker (D) has not yet arrived. E.D. Strach is attempting to determine where she is and when she might arrive. Meanwhile, Chairman Whitney reads the ethics statement (no, really). Whitney asks for a moment of silence for citizens in East Tennessee and at Ohio State.
4:10 PM EST: Don’t forget to tweet your best high-brow snark to #RigTheVoteNC. Still waiting for the dang hearing to be called to order. E.D. Kim Strach trotting around whispering in Board members’ ears. Perhaps Gov. McCrory has just conceded? Heh. As if.
4:01 PM EST: It bears repeating, as we await the call to order, that Cooper’s current lead over McCrory according to State Board of Elections numbers is now 10,257 (with Wake County having just completed its canvass). That makes this hearing the Super Bowl of NC politics.
3:57 PM EST: Overflow crowd in the small hearing room as the Board members continue drifting in. Surprisingly, no Fire Marshall. Room’s capacity (99) long since exceeded.
3:55 PM EST: McCrory/GOP’s game plan here is to find any way possible to trim Cooper’s lead down below 10K votes, thus enabling the governor to demand a recount. Winning a hand-recount of Durham County’s 90K late votes might-could do that, but it’s fair to say at this point that McCrory’s remaining options amount to little more than a Hail Mary pass.
3:47 PM EST: Arch-enemy of democracy Dallas Woodhouse, E.D. of the NC-GOP and architect of 17 counties’ voter suppression plans during the Early Voting period, shmoozing with State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach and today’s appellant, GOP atty Tom (‘winter is coming’) Stark. Unseemly.
3:32 PM EST: And we’re live. As the press and board members are trickling in to the State Board of Elections hearing room, challenger Roy Cooper’s (D) lead over incumbent Pat McCrory stands at 10,257 votes…just above the 10K margin that, if it holds, will bar McCrory from demanding a statewide recount. And that means this hearing is for all the marbles, as far as the Guv’s political future is concerned.
Our story so far…
In the darkest hours of Election Night, what had looked like a possible re-election win for North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) turned into a surprising loss as late returns from the state’s bluest county, Durham, pushed challenger Roy Cooper (D) ahead by a razor thin 5,000 vote margin. Refusing to concede defeat, McCrory and the NC-GOP inundated more than 50 county boards of elections with challenges and protests citing dead voters, double-voters, felon voters, and more (which proved substantially incorrect and have been rejected by those Republican-dominated county boards).
A State Board of Elections order issued Monday evening cut the legs out from under all of those challenges but two: a technical challenge of about 200 ballots in Bladen County, and an appeal by Republican operative Thomas Stark for a hand recount of the 90,000 Durham County ballots that gave Cooper his late-night win.
Stark’s protest of the Durham results hinges on an “irregularity” Durham County election officials encountered when vote totals from six tabulator machine memory cards could not be uploaded to the state’s reporting software. The vote totals were manually uploaded instead (from paper tape backups), and subsequent checks confirmed their accuracy. At a Nov. 18 hearing Durham County’s Republican-controlled Board rejected Stark’s protest “in its entirety, because there is not substantial evidence of a violation of the election law or other irregularity or misconduct.”
Today’s liveblogged meeting will consider Stark’s appeal of that decision to the State Board of Elections. Meeting materials can be found here (warning: 399 page PDF).