11/24/06 — More problems discovered at polls in Lenoir

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More problems discovered at polls in Lenoir

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 24, 2006 1:45 PM

Lenoir County voters experienced voting irregularities for the third time this year after 207 voters were given the wrong ballot in one of Kinston's precincts, election officials said.

Lenoir County Board of Elections Director Dana King said poll workers in the K-5 precinct gave those who tried to vote in the Nov. 7 general election the wrong ballots.

The K-5 precinct is split between the 10th and 12th North Carolina House of Representatives seats. The 10th District House race was between Democrat Van Braxton and Republican Willie Ray Starling, which Braxton won by more than 1,300 votes. District 10 includes all of Greene County and parts of Lenoir and Wayne counties.

Rep. William Wainwright, D-District 12, won his ninth consecutive term to the N.C. House by beating Republican John Pearcy Wetherington by about 1,500 votes.

The initial 207 voters at the K-5 precinct were given a 10th House ballot instead of a 12th House ballot, Mrs. King said.

"I think the newness of (the elections machines) was an issue, but our workers were trained before every election this year. It's sad to say, but I think everything that went wrong this year was due to human error," she said.

In May, Rep. Stephen LaRoque initially lost the primary election to Starling by 11 votes, but he claimed that some voters who would have voted for him were denied the proper ballots by poll workers. After LaRoque protested, the Lenoir Board of Elections reviewed the issue, honored the protest and asked the state Board of Elections to decide whether a new primary was needed.

After a hearing in Raleigh and another in Kinston, the state Board of Elections approved a new election, which cost taxpayers a total of about $40,000. During the second primary in September, results were delayed because of a faulty voting machine.

Since Braxton earned his District 10 seat by a large margin, Starling didn't ask for a recount or another election to settle the issue. Starling did appear before the Lenoir County Board of Elections earlier this week to address his concerns about the election process in the county.

Starling said he wants the Lenoir County Board of Elections to consider changing some of its policies so it can be held accountable for the final tallies.

He said the canvass was not conducted in front of the public, and the data cards from each machine were not verified in public. Improperly handled data cards can double or triple the voter count, Starling said. He also complained that only two Lenoir Board of Elections members were present and in front of the public while the votes were canvassed and verified in another room.

State Board of Elections Deputy Director of Administrations Johnnie McLean said it is unfortunate that more voting irregularities occurred in Lenoir County, but the county is fortunate to have caught the problem early.

"Voting machines are not the problem in elections. It's the voters, precinct officials, the county board and officials," Mrs. McLean said. "Nobody sets out to intentionally do these things. I believe the precinct officials are doing the best that can be done."