by Blake Proctor
The 2020 election’s ballot recount was a major eye-opener for this retired long-term city manager: What this reporter had imagined was going to be a three- or four-hour undertaking, actually ran from 10 o’clock Saturday morning to 12:40 Sunday morning – fourteen hours and forty minutes, with a half-hour lunch break at 1pm Saturday!
At 10:02am, with Chair Louella Thompson and Board member Deborah Belle not yet arrived, Board member Patsy Sheppard called the meeting to order. In addition to this reporter, present were Commissioner David Gooden and Bladen County GOP Chairman Wayne Schaefer.
An audio engineer from Public Radio’s “This American Life,” whose name was not recorded, was also on hand to document the results of the recount. Arriving just before the meeting began, his wait was as long as everyone else’s, although in his case, he said he was receiving double-weekend pay.
Chair Thompson got to the recount at 10:15am, while Board Director Chris Williams was giving his instructions; Ms. Belle arrived about a half hour later.
In the presence of the Elections Board and those in attendance, Mr. Williams and his deputy Wanda Monroe reset to zero all those tabulators that had been used in the election in order to prepare each to receive new ballots.
During One-stop voting and on election day, each tabulating machine’s daily ballot input was placed into a heavy plastic bag and sealed. During the recount, each bag was scissored open and those ballots were run through the same tabulator they had been put into on election day.
Five teams, each consisting of a Republican and a Democrat “volunteer feeder,” handfed every ballot into the tabulator; only when that bag had been recounted was the next bag from that tabulator cut open.
With at least one tabulator at each of the twenty-three precincts, more than two dozen tabulators had to be fed for the recount.
After all the ballots from each bag were recounted, and in order to assure the continued integrity of those ballots, they were placed into another bag, along with the folded bag they had been taken from, and that bag was then sealed.
Exactly as during the election, each machine took several seconds to tabulate the ballot and recycle itself to receive the next ballot; taking about twelve seconds per ballot, the maximum counting speed per machine was five to six ballots per minute, about 340 ballots per hour. Slow going indeed!
With teams finishing one tabulator and moving to another, over 12,000 ballots had been counted on all the machines but one before 9pm. As each of the other final four machines was shut down, the volunteers stretched, signed their time sheets, put on their coats, and bid the others good evening.
By 9pm, there was only a single tabulator still gobbling ballots – the machine from Elizabethtown’s Precinct 1 at the E-town gym; a total of 5,475 ballots had gone through that machine during one-stop voting and on election day. It was still going to be a long night!
At 10pm, that lone tabulator lost power. Everyone held their breath as the machine was restarted, and with a sigh of relief, it was discovered that the ballot count had not been lost…they would not have to start over!
Only 825 more ballots needed recounting, at 340 per hour.
At 12:24 Sunday morning, the final ballot was sent through the tabulator; the count was 5,471, but attendees were reminded that at the ballot canvass on December 13th, three ballots from E-town Precinct 1 had been challenged and ultimately redacted from the tabulations.
The fourth may have been lost while going through the tabulator when power was lost; there were, however, no questions or concerns regarding that ballot, from neither staff, nor observers.
Within a few minutes, Mr. Williams, in the presence of a representative from each Party, had downloaded that last ballot count into the computer and had printed out the official recount totals:
In the recount in the State Supreme Court Chief Justice race, Paul Newby collected 9,129 votes, while Cheri Beasley had 7,723 votes.
For the hotly contested third Bladen Countywide Commission seat, Michael Cogdell bested David Gooden by a vote of 3,054 to 3,043, the tally widening by a single vote due to a lightly marked ballot that had not been picked up by the scanners of a machine during the election, but had been counted in the recount.
On a motion by Republican Michael Aycock, with a second by Democrat Deborah Belle, the results of the recount of the November 30, 2020 election were unanimously accepted.
There being no further business, the meeting immediately adjourned at 12:40am, Sunday, November 22, 2020.