AI, churn in county directors present challenges for State Board of Elections • NC Newsline – NC Newsline

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There is an acute shortage of experienced county elections directors to oversee the November presidential contest, State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell told a legislative oversight committee today, with 30 officials serving in the position for the first time.

Sixty directors have left their jobs in the past five years. Of those, 37 retired and 21 resigned. (Some counties lost more than one director.) One director died and another was fired.

Some of the new directors have worked as interims or on elections staff, but have never been officially in charge.

The retirements aren’t unexpected, Brinson Bell said, but the reason behind them is. “What some of them have shared is there isn’t fuel in the fuel tank. The continued hostility and harassment, the demands on them and the workload. They thought they would see us through another presidential election but decided they couldn’t.”

Brinson Bell used the data to tell state lawmakers she will be asking for more funding to hire two additional field support specialists, people who can help counties navigate what’s expected to be a crucial and tumultuous election.

Because of resignations, one county will have no one on its elections staff, Brinson Bell said. “This is significant.”

Sen. Jim Perry, a Lenoir County Republican, downplayed the staffing numbers, saying it didn’t seem “that monumental.”

Perry said he was open to appropriating more funding to the state board, but wants benchmarks to show the money is wisely spent. “What are we going to get for the money and when are we going to get it,” Perry said. “There have been cases [with other agencies] where we have appropriated money but the intended purpose of the money never occurs.”

The Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee also heard a summary of the March primary, for which several new laws went into effect.

ABM is short for absentee by mail; EV stands for early voting in-person. Source: State Board of Elections

Absentee ballot deadlines: Under Senate Bill 747, which became law last October, the state legislature significantly shortened the deadline for absentee ballots to arrive at local election boards. Previously there was a three-day grace period after Election Day; now all absentee ballots must reach the board offices by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

Of the 1,128 absentee ballots that were invalidated because they were returned after the new deadline, 800 would have counted if the three-day grace period were still in effect, Brinson Bell said.

“Were those people informed that their ballots didn’t count?” asked Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

“There is not a notification,” Brinson Bell said, adding that voters can track their ballot’s arrival at the board of elections, but that system doesn’t confirm whether the ballot counted.

Absentee ballot verification: SB 747 also required election officials to launch a pilot program in 10 randomly selected counties to verify absentee voters with their signatures. Those signatures would be verified through third-party software.

The program has stalled, though, because an initial call for bidders failed. Prospective companies would have to comply with stricter  security measures because, Brinson Bell said, signatures are legally considered personally identifiable information and confidential.

“The initial procurement failed to locate a vendor that meets all requirements,” Brinson Bell said, adding that the board and other state agencies are “working on a new procurement to be completed soon. We’re being very diligent, but it’s been a little more of a hurdle than any of us envisioned.”

Upcoming elections
Second primary races and candidates, all Republican

Early voting: April 25 – May 11
Election Day: Tuesday, May 14

Lieutenant governor: Hal Weatherman and Jim O’Neill
State auditor: Jack Clark and Dave Boliek
U.S. House District 13: Kelly Daughtry and Brad Knott
Gaston County Board of Commissioners: Jim Bailey and Ronnie Worley

Nonpartisan runoff
Orange County Schools Board of Education: Jennifer Moore and Bonnie Hauser

General Election

Early voting: Oct. 17 through Nov. 2. Same-day registration available.
Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 5. Absentee ballots due to local boards of elections by 7:30 p.m.

Photo ID: The state’s photo ID law also became effective last year; this is the first presidential election in which the statute applies. Nearly all in-person voters showed a valid ID at the polls during the primary.

Of the 1,185 people who voted provisionally because they didn’t present ID at the polls, 557 filled out an identification exception form.

The most common reason for not showing ID was a “reasonable impediment,” such as transportation challenges (550 voters), followed by religious objection (4) and natural disaster (3). These voters’ ballots were counted.

There were 470 voters whose ballots didn’t count because they didn’t return to their local board of elections and present ID.

Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, said these numbers suggest the photo ID law didn’t deter people from voting.

Yet it’s hard to measure the number of people who might have not chosen to vote because of the law.

“We have to be cognizant about the voters who participated,” Brinson Bell said. The primary attracts “more of our engaged and participatory voters.” With larger turnout expected for the General Election, the photo ID numbers could change.

Source: State Board of Elections
AI a threat to election integrity

Artificial intelligence presents another challenge to administering a fair and clean election, Brinson Bell said. “What if someone takes my image and my voice and says the election isn’t on November 5?” Brinson Bell said. “What effect could that have on the election? Can we legislate a false narrative? This highlights the critical nature of having a strong cyber and public information team at the state board.”

The March primary, by the numbers

There is no evidence that vote totals or ballots cast in the March primary were manipulated, Brinson Bell said.

  • 27  counties reported an exact match between the number of voters who cast ballots and the number of ballots themselves.
  • 60  counties had differences of one to three ballots.
  • 12 counties had variances of more than four. Those differences were largely attributed to voters wishing to cast a ballot that was not associated with their party affiliation.

In primary elections, voters must cast a ballot for their registered party. Only unaffiliated voters can choose among all the party ballots.

Although North Carolina added a half million registered voters over the last four years, fewer people cast ballots in the 2024 primary.

  • 2024 primary: 7.4 million registered voters
  • 2020 primary: 6.9 million registered voters
  • 2024: More than 1.8 million ballots cast — 24% turnout.
  • 2022: More than 2.1 million ballots cast — 31% turnout

People who registered as unaffiliated make up the largest voting bloc — nearly 37% — a gain of 456,000 voters since the last presidential election.

Here’s how party registrations have changed within the last four years:

  • Democrats down 110,000
  • Republicans up 164,000
  • Libertarians up 10,100
  • Green down 54
  • No Labels, which was not active four years ago, has 7,752 registered members

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