Durham County elections worker pleads guilty to mishandling ballots in 2016 primary

(Anthony Wilson)

A former Durham County elections worker pleaded guilty last Friday to failing to discharge duties of his office, a misdemeanor, stemming from the mishandling of provisional ballots in the March 2016 primary election, according to the State Board of Elections.

Richard Robert Rawling received a suspended, 30-day jail sentence, one year of unsupervised probation, a $500 fine and court costs.

A State Board investigation found that Rawling ran or ordered subordinates to run provisional ballots through tabulators more than once and made manual changes to the ballot count so the results of the provisional canvass would match the number provisional ballots approved by the County Board of Elections. That was done to avoid having to report to the Durham County Board of Elections a discrepancy in the number of provisional ballots in possession of the Board of Elections and the number counted on canvass day, the investigation found.

The number of ballots affected was not sufficient in number to potentially change the outcomes of any contest in the March 2016 primary, and the investigation found no evidence that Rawling changed the vote totals to affect any outcomes.

"We applaud the Durham County District Attorney's Office for its work on this case," said Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement. "Any interference in election results - whether internal or external - can change election outcomes. While contest outcomes were not affected in this situation, investigations and prosecutions of cases like this are imperative for election integrity."

Derek Bowens took over as Durham County's elections director in June 2017. This incident occurred under a former director.

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