Imagine that you are in charge of an event of statewide or even national importance. You must interact with thousands of people over the course of months, with the action culminating on one very hectic day. Some of the people taking part will be groggy early in the morning; others will be tired and grumpy after a day of work. All are impatient to get in and get out as fast as possible, but you are charged with ensuring they precisely follow a host of state and federal laws and regulations. Above all, you must, under penalty of law, accurately compile, protect and report the relevant data.
Do you think you could make that happen with no complaint or problem surfacing? If so, congratulations! You are well-qualified to be on one of the 41 North Carolina county Boards of Election that claim they encountered not a single, solitary problem or complaint in the 25 days of One-Stop voting leading up to and on Election Day, November 6, 2012. If on the other hand you think such perfection is impossible, you’ll understand why we are calling for election boards to share publicly information about the incidents and difficulties they encounter.
So far on the NC Election Central page, we have included an in-depth look at Same Day Registration (SDR) in North Carolina and the results of a public records request, to all 100 counties, for problems they encountered during the 2012 Primary Election. In February 2012 we made the same request to every county in North Carolina for documents pertaining to problems, complaints, incidents, etc. encountered during the 2012 General Election voting period. The results are on the NC Election Central page.
Our purposes for presenting election and voting problems are: 1) to document the challenges the local boards of elections face in every election and 2) reveal the problems that occur less frequently but could provide insight into policies and processes that may not work or may need modification.
We believe this information will be helpful to citizens who are learning about the voting processes in North Carolina. The data should also aid poll workers and local Board of Elections staff who, we have found, sometimes feel that they are the only ones who face unique problems during voting periods. Through our research we have found very little communication between local boards. One county director asked us during our inquiry whether she would be able to look at our results. Once this director learned she could see all the problems in every county, she displayed an obvious sense of relief and anticipation. We also believe there is little communication between local boards and the SBOE because the state does not require the local boards to report their problems.
We hope the information we compile will encourage the State Board of Elections (SBOE) to take on this project so that the counties will be compelled to use the results to improve the election process.
That a county experiences and reports voting problems should not be viewed as negative; it is to be expected. The new SBOE should require the local election boards to report all problems they encounter with voters and equipment during elections to the SBOE after the election. And we would encourage the SBOE to share the problems, its findings about those problems, and any remedies that are appropriate. We believe that a county board that willingly shares the complaints, incident reports, etc. should be viewed as dutifully tracking problems in the quest for continual improvement. In the private sector this sort of internal analysis and improvement happens all of the time.
Out of North Carolina’s 100 counties, 52 (listed in light blue below) complied and provided records of incidents and problems promptly. One county balked for awhile: the Nash County elections director finally complied with our request only after we contacted the county’s attorney. Six counties did not comply: Lenoir, Mitchell, Moore, Pender, Polk and Wake.*
However, 41 counties (listed below) claimed they did not have any problems or incidents during the General Election voting period of 2012. We believe that there is no such thing as an election without problems. Any election is a monumental undertaking that involves many people, and whenever people are involved there are always problems and complaints.
Here is a list of the counties where the director said there were no problems. We also welcome your input. If you have an election-related story – such as a time you submitted a challenge, made a protest or lodged a simple complaint – we encourage you to report your story to us on this page.
The fact that there are so many counties that have indicated that they had no problems or refused to comply with our request makes it even more urgent that the SBOE make the recording and reporting of all problems mandatory. Non-compliance with a public records request makes the public only more suspicious. Until the SBOE takes this on as a matter of policy and procedure, Civitas will continue to request these public records after primaries and general elections.
The counties that complied immediately or within a reasonable amount of time with our request – without second notice from us – are indicated below.
- New Hanover
But until every county Board of Election supplies prompt, credible information about election problems and complaints, the problems will fester, and public confidence in the process will be undermined.
*Wake County delivered its documents shortly after this article was posted. We have updated the map and list. Go to NC Election Central, click on “Wake” on the map, then scroll down to see the problems/incidents the Wake County Board of Elections forwarded to us.