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Software problems and a lack of paper forms caused delays at polling places in Durham County on Election Day.
7:51 p.m. (All times eastern)
The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted Tuesday evening to extend voting hours by amounts of time ranging from 20 minutes to one hour in eight election precincts in Durham County and one precinct in Columbus County.
Durham County, North Carolina officials sought approval from the state’s board of elections Tuesday to extend voting hours in the jurisdiction, after software glitches and paper form shortages led to delays at polling places.
The move came after voting rights advocates there wrote to state and county election officials requesting that polling places in all 57 voting precincts in Durham County be kept open until at least 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday—one hour later than the scheduled closing time.
North Carolina is considered a battleground state in the presidential contest and is also the site of a hotly contested race for the governor’s office between incumbent Pat McCrory, a Republican, and state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat.
The letter pushing for the time extension was sent by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on behalf of a group called the Election Protection Coalition. According to the letter, a Election Protection Coalition hotline had received dozens of calls by 11 a.m. Tuesday from voters who had difficulties in Durham County.
“We have numerous accounts of voters being turned away because the precincts ran out of paper [authorization to vote] forms, with those voters being told to ‘come back later’” the letter said.
It added: “This is not acceptable.”
Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said around 2:40 p.m. in an email that the Durham County Board of Elections had voted unanimously to request that the state extend voting hours in the county by 90 minutes.
But, he added, the state election board was calling for the county to make a “finding of cause” for keeping each precinct open later and for those declarations to be notarized.
Deborah Craig-Ray, general manager of strategic management and innovation and public affairs for Durham County, could not confirm that the requested length of the extension was 90 minutes.
She said by phone Tuesday that the state board of elections was expected to meet around 6 p.m. and would likely decide after that time whether to go along with the county’s request.
Craig-Ray said problems with software from a third-party vendor forced election officials to resort to hard copies of poll books when checking in voters. “We literally had to open a book and look up your name,” she said, “which clearly takes a little more time than to just punch in your name into a computer.”
“We test our machines,” Craig-Ray added, “but unfortunately this did occur.”
A separate problem, she explained, is that some precincts ran out of the authorization to vote, or ATV forms, and the county had to print and distribute more.
On the upside, nearly half of voters in Durham County voted early, according to Craig-Ray. Early voting began on Oct. 20 and ended this past Saturday, Nov. 5.
Bill Lucia is a reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.