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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

New Hanover Elections Director on this week's full 'hand-to-eye' recount

New Hanover County Elections Director Rae Hunter-Havens.
Benjamin Schachtman
New Hanover County Elections Director Rae Hunter-Havens.

Wednesday, the New Hanover Board of Elections will undertake a countywide hand-to-eye recount. WHQR spoke with the county’s elections director about the process.

This countywide recount is actually the third in a series — trigged when incumbent candidate Nelson Beaulieu landed just three votes behind challenger Jennah Bosch in the Democratic primary race for New Hanover County board of education. The county canvass later narrowed Bosch's lead to two votes.

The initial recount, requested by Beaulieu, was performed on the same machines used on election night, but they registered a slightly different result. According to Elections Director Rae Hunter-Havens, both candidates lost two votes — which changed the totals, but not the margins (or Bosch's lead).

How did both candidates lose votes? Because voters don’t always fill out their ballot choices fully, Hunter-Havens said, which can cause voting machines, which might each have slightly different levels of sensitivity, to read them differently.

“Essentially, what happens is, whenever you use two different machines to scan a batch of ballots, the sensitivities of those machines may vary just a little bit. So it could be because the speed at which the ballots go through the [machine]… And typically, it's human error that results in that, that the voter just did not fill in the oval, they may have put a partially filled mark," she said.

Following the 'machine recount,' Beaulieu subsequently requested a ‘hand-to-eye’ recount, which sampled two precincts. This time, physical ballots were examined by elections staff and any uncertainties were decided by the bi-partisan Board of Elections. Hunter-Havens said a half-dozen or so ballots went before the board to "determine voter intent." Of those, only one discrepancy was identified, which was still enough to lead to the full county-wide recount this week.

Hunter-Havens says she’s not quite sure how long it will take.

“That's a million-dollar question right now," she said. "I tend to be very conservative in general. And so, [I said] it's gonna take us four and five days, but some of the more experienced folks at the [North Carolina] State Board of Elections, think that our team might be able to do it in three days. So we're hopeful, you know, obviously, we want to make sure that [elections staff] can take their breaks throughout the day. But there's a possibility we can be done Friday [June 17], but it may go into next week, like on Monday or Tuesday, potentially," she said.

While the recount will cost the board of elections money in terms of increased staffing, Hunter-Havens agreed it was worth it to have election results the public could trust.

The recount will be held starting Wednesday, June 15, in the David E. Paynter Room located to the left of the main entrance to the Northeast Library on Military Cutoff Road. The recount will begin at 9 a.m. and will be open to the public.

There will not be a teleconference or virtual attendance option, but increased capacity for in-person observation will be made available. Given the number of ballots cast countywide, the New Hanover County Board of Elections “reserves the right to adjourn and reconvene the meeting as appropriate until the full hand-to-eye recount has concluded.”

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.