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Washington County manager explains absentee ballot count issue

Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 7:30 PM EST
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WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - Days ago, only 35 votes separated incumbent Democrat Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and her challenger, Republican Justice Paul Newby, with Beasley in the lead. Now, Beasley trails by 230, and the change can be traced back to a county here in the East.

Washington County Manager Curtis Potter explains the flip, something he hasn’t seen in his six to seven years of working for the county.

“There was an issue with the uploading of information during the canvass that took place on Friday by the Board of Elections that resulted in the double-counting of absentee ballots only, that were counted on this past Friday,” said Potter.

Outdated machinery could be the reason why. Potter says the county couldn’t afford new ones.

“When we can make an older system continue to work, we try to do that in order to be good stewards of the public tax fund,” said Potter.

And as close as the race is, state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin says, there’s still a ways to go.

“You have the county canvassing. Then, you have the state canvassing. And then, there’s the process for recounts and other matters. So, we will follow the process,” Goodwin said.

And though the state GOP declined an interview, they say they’re glad Washington County corrected the error and are focused on Robeson County’s provisionals.

And Goodwin hopes it doesn’t fuel voters’ accusations of voter fraud.

“You can’t just create things out of thin air and say that there’s fraud. And if there are small mistakes here and there; that’s what the process is there to pick up and correct,” Goodwin.

Potter says it’s all taken care of now.

“The new numbers have been uploaded and are with the state,” Potter said.

And the county is working on a capital improvement plan.

“We are currently looking at upgrading that system to avoid repeats of a situation like this,” said Potter.

The North Carolina Board of Elections emphasizes this type of reporting problem was possible only because Washington County uses an older model of tabulation equipment. Newer equipment, which it says most counties use, does not allow for duplicate counting.

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