ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Board of Elections began a meticulous recount of ballots Thursday, honoring a request by county commissioner candidate Tavares Bostic, who lost the third of three seats to incumbent Kenneth Robinette by less than one percent.
The recount began at 8 a.m. in the close quarters of the elections board office, with voting machines and hired temporary workers stationed scant feet apart to feed the ballots through under the supervision of elections director Connie Kelly and members of the board — but by 5 p.m. 4,000 ballots remained uncounted and were scheduled to resume early Friday.
“The early votes that were cast at the Cooperative Extension total 9,356, and it has taken them since 8:15 this morning to run a little over 3,000,” Kelly said. “As they get to a finishing point around 5 o’clock give or take, we’ll close down today and finish it in the morning. Everything else will be done. As of today, every other precinct is done. It’s just that one. We voted as many there, almost half of what we voted countywide.”
The office was full to capacity as the workers ran each ballot through their respective machines by hand.
“We had 12 part time, all of us full time, and then the board members,” Kelly explained.
With only the one-stop early voting ballots left incomplete in the recount, she said there were only a few results that varied from the original count.
“There’s only been three or four differences so far,” Kelly said. ” A margin of error is expected. Sometimes the ink might read better the day it’s marked than two weeks after it’s dried. For this many ballots can be off only three or four votes, that’s to be expected. Will they change the outcome? Of course this (precinct) is going to be the key, but as long as it carries over like the others have — cause we’ve had 17 counts come back with exactly the same numbers as before — it’s not going to make a difference.”
Kelly said she encouraged the temporary workers to take care while feeding the ballots through.
“We were never completely able to reconcile one precinct to the voters,” she explained. “They had two more on the machine than they did that voted, according to the authorization to vote forms, as we tally that. That’s why I’ve stressed to all these people in here helping us not to be in too big of a hurry.
“Sometimes if a ballot goes in and it jams, if you’re not sure if it counted, it’s better to hold it out until the end, and put it in an emergency bin to see if it counted,” she continued. “Because I think what happens at the precinct is they’ll think it didn’t count, and run it back through if it jams. It was 967 voters at that precinct, so there were two ballots that must have happened to.”
Given the results of the recount thus far, unless there was a problem at the final precinct to be recounted, Kelly said it is unlikely Bostic will gain the 317 votes it would take to defeat Robinette in the county commissioner contest — and that “any substantial change like that would entitle the loser to a second recount by hand.” She added that the accuracy the recount has demonstrated so far should assure the public that electronic voting is secure.
“I’m really, really pleased that things have gone so well,” she said. “It shows that machines are accurate. Most of the time, human error is attributed to anything that’s off. It could be the way they mark the ballot. If you mark a ballot and you just put a little dot in there, or if you do a check — sometimes it will see enough of that check to count it, sometimes it won’t. You can’t really know, because it’s a machine.”
Kelly said completely filling in the oval next to the name of the candidate a voter selects is important in avoiding such ballot marking errors.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.