Crisis of Confidence

With Election Day here, North Carolina finds itself in the midst of yet another bout of election problems. Gary Bartlett, Director of the NC Board of Elections, wants to brush these problems under the rug while remaining in denial about the perceived partisan and arbitrary nature of the Board.

In a condescending letter responding to the North Carolina Republican Party’s letter of complaint regarding voting machine irregularities in multiple counties, Bartlett brazenly attempts to dismiss the GOP’s concerns as an attempt to gin up doubt about the election’s integrity.

Bartlett wrote; “Your letter emailed to this office this afternoon is apparently intended to elevate isolated occurrences with touch screen voting equipment into a crisis of confidence in the integrity of the election.”

The GOP’s complaint addressed the problems encountered with the touch screen voting machines in several counties early voting sites this year.  Bartlett characterized the number of counties reporting problems as “isolated occurrences,” while the complaint cited Mecklenburg, Randolph, New Hanover, Craven, Cumberland, Wilson, Pender, Forsyth and Lenoir counties.   Bartlett wrote that the problems were due to a loss in calibration of the touch screen.  In the letter, however, state GOP legal counsel John E. Branch III allowed that while the GOP understood there was a calibration problem, they did not understand why that, in every reported instance of a faulty voting machine, the default vote would go to Democrat candidates or straight Democrat ticket.

Less reassuring is Bartlett’s third sentence in his letter to state GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer; “The concerns you have expressed are no different than the ones that must be addressed every election.”  If this sort of thing occurs during every election, then we have already lost the integrity of our election process. But Bartlett appears unconcerned.

Gary Bartlett did get one thing right in his letter to John Branch; there is a “Crisis of Confidence” regarding the integrity of our elections.   That loss of confidence, however, can be blamed largely on the actions of the Executive Director and the NC State Board of Elections itself.   

During the past two years, we have witnessed the partisan State Board of Elections (3 Democrats and 2 Republicans) operate in an exceedingly partisan manner while investigating Governor Beverly Perdue’s campaign wrongdoings.   After it was reported that the Chairman of the State Board of Elections (Larry Leake) had interfered into his Board’s own investigation into undisclosed campaign flights by Gov. Beverly Perdue, the Board went ahead with a hearing into the matter. 

And, after all three Democrats on the Board voted against holding public hearings into Perdue’s campaign wrongdoings, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) opened an investigation into the matter at the request of Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.  Willoughby said, “The elections board may have been "a little hasty" in its decision” and went on to say, "I believe there were some issues the elections board did not address."

From District Attorney to the SBI and then on October 22, 2010, Beverly Perdue announced that the Federal authorities were also investigating her campaign.  All the while, the State Board of Elections attempted to deny any further investigation.

The loss of confidence in our election process facilitated by the incompetent Board of Elections has trickled down to the local level too.  In Wake County, poll observers have been accused of being overenthusiastic in their duties and as a result have been accused of intimidating voters.  In fact, it is the duty of the State Board of Elections to supervise these poll observers and educate them about North Carolina’s election law if needed.  Election rules and law can be confusing to individuals new to the system and especially so considering the State Board of Elections has a penchant for changing the rules in the middle of the game.

For instance:

On October 24, 2008, the State Board of Elections issued a memorandum (nine days into one-stop voting) permitting the “use of electronic devices such as computers personal digital assistants, blackberries or similar devices” as long as the use of the devices did not disrupt the voting process. 

Then on October 18, 2010 (four days into one-stop this year) the Board of Elections issued a new memorandum that “supersedes the October 24, 2008 memorandum on this subject.”  This memorandum changed the rules by requiring the Chief Judge to establish a wireless communication location outside the voting enclosure.

We may never know whether the 2008 decision to allow the use of electronic devices in the polling place was based on Presidential Candidate Barak Obama’s unprecedented online campaign organization and we may never know if the reversal of that order was based on this year’s political climate, but to accuse citizens for questioning an election process that is very rarely questioned is a disturbing commentary on the Board of Elections.

Given such partisan and inconsistent behavior being exhibited by State Board leadership such as Gary Bartlett and Larry Leake, what reason is there for North Carolinians to have much confidence in our election process?

This article was posted in Elections & Voting by Susan Myrick on November 1, 2010 at 4:19 PM.

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