Scalawag's coverage of Election Day 2016

We'll be updating this blog throughout the day with reporting and analysis from across the South.

Key points so far:

  • Turnout seems to be high throughout the region.
  • Despite worries of voter intimidation and voter fraud, there's very little evidence of either—and certainly not widespread, systemic issues.
  • Same goes for voting machines: A outage in the check-in software in Durham, North Carolina was the most widespread problem. The State Board of Elections extended voting in eight precincts in the county to address this problem.

Before you read further: If you haven't voted, go vote—and do it soon, because polls are getting ready to close throughout the country.

Last updated: 7:09PM EST, November 8.

Disturbing report of voter intimidation in Pamlico County, North Carolina

By Jesse Williams

The driver of a black pick-up truck shouted racial slurs at voters outside a polling place at the courthouse in Bayboro, North Carolina, today, according to Richard Hawkins, who was in the car directly behind the truck. As he passed the polling place, the driver slowed down and yelled "Go home niggers! Donald Trump will send you back to Africa!" Mr. Hawkins told Scalawag "You'd have to live in one of these areas to know [what it's like here]--these uneducated white people don't know anything else... It's like The Hills Have Eyes"

We received a tip about this incident via ElectionLand, and independently confirmed it.

Update from the field in Siler City, North Carolina

By Michael Schulson

Two months ago, a 19 year-old mother in Siler City, N.C., made a video trying to get people to vote. "I'm voting to defend my family," Stephanie Camacho says in the video. "I am their voice."

She and other young activists shared the short film as the first production of their fledgling organization, Youth Sin Fronteras (Youth Without Borders). It quickly grabbed more than 1,000 views--big numbers in a small town. Since then, the group has used social media and old-fashioned peer pressure to help organize in Siler City and nearby Asheboro.

I met with Camacho and three other members of the group--Pablo Miranda, Dulce Vera, and Ana Narcizo--in the offices of El Vínculo Hispano, a small nonprofit in Siler City that serves Latino immigrants and their families. It was a busy day--a recent immigration raid on a McDonald's here has left dozens of people in limbo, and a Raleigh lawyer was there for meetings.

After a day of get-out-the-vote efforts, the young activists had just come from the polls, where they were making another video, and where Camacho had voted for the first time.

In many ways, Siler City is a case study for the emerging South. It has a cute main street, changing demographics, and many boarded up storefronts. Starting in the 1990s, immigrants from Latin America--most, but not all, from Mexico--began to come to Siler City to work in the poultry plants. The plants left, but the migrants settled down. Today, the town of 8,000 people is 50% Hispanic, 30% White, and 20% Black.

For many people in Siler City, the stakes of this election feel high. Plenty are fearful about the future. Few seem hopeful about the change that either presidential candidate can bring.

I spent much of the day outside the East Siler City precinct, chatting with voters and volunteers. Precinct confusion was the reigning issue of the day: many people went to the wrong voting location, confused by the difference between early voting and Election Day locations.

Not a single person I talked to seemed genuinely, unequivocally thrilled about their candidate.

Still, turnout was brisk. Charles Hudson, a White real estate and insurance agent, said that he had voted for Trump. "We've lost a lot of our economy here because of NAFTA," Hudson said. He didn't have warm words for Trump, but he thought he would bring change. He's "the best of the snakes," Hudson said.

Steve Mitchell, a veteran of the Navy, had a different take. "My opinion: [Trump] is an asshole. Simple as that," he said, and then walked away.

Madonna Brewer, a nurse, had agonized for months over her choice. She doesn't agree with Trump's policies on the border, and she thinks that Clinton is likelier to shrink the deficit and improve services for veterans, both key issues for her. But Brewer strongly opposes abortion. In the end, she opted for Clinton, despite the candidate's strong pro-choice stance. "I'm scared for our country," Brewer said.

Stephen Grimes is in the tire business, and he said sales are good. But his health insurance premiums have gone up under the Affordable Care Act, and they are set to increase again. This time, doesn't know how he will pay. "My health insurance is more than I can make in two weeks," Grimes said. He wouldn't tell me who he voted for, but he was looking for a candidate who would repeal the ACA.

Naturally, immigration is a major issue for many voters in Siler City. The young Latino voters I spoke with at the polls had all voted for Clinton--and they all spoke about their families. Angel Osorio Zaga, 22, didn't vote the last time around. But he came out this time. His family and his values, he said, shaped his vote. "I'm Hispanic, man. We can't vote for someone who's degrading our people."

Daniel Lopez, who is 19, said that his parents were very excited about his vote, especially because they can't vote, but feel that their own future is on the line in this election.

A young Latina voter, asked how she had made her choice, said "just basically the racism."

Still, it's not as if a Trump administration would suddenly usher in fear to an otherwise placid community. I asked Ilana Dubester, the founder and executive director of El Vínculo Hispano, how people would react if Trump were to be elected. "People are going to be freaked out, yes," she said. But, she added, "we're scared under the Democrats. We're scared under Obama." Deportations have increased during his administration.

After the raid on the McDonald's, Dubester said, "we had two quiet weeks at the office because people didn't want to leave their homes." Rumors spread quickly. "Any white van driving through town, people think it's an immigration raid."

Beatriz Curtis made a similar point about the Obama administration when I spoke with her outside a Siler City precinct, where she was volunteering for the GOP. Curtis moved to the United States from her native Guatemala 46 years ago. When I asked her about the possibility of increased deportations under Trump, she sounded skeptical. "It's hypocrisy" for Democrats to cry foul about that, she said, considering their own record.

Still, she supports stricter policies and the border wall. "People give me bad looks. But I couldn't care less. I know where I stand, and I stand for obeying the law."

For the young activists of Youth Sin Fronteras, though, the stakes felt clear. Republican rhetoric about immigrants, and specifically Latino immigrants, had been aggressive in ways that felt unprecedented. The stability of life in their central North Carolina hometowns felt threatened. As Camacho put it, she was voting not just for herself, but "for my family, [and] for my husband, so they don't send him away."


UPDATE ON DURHAM VOTING: Hours will be extended in some precincts.

by Evan Walker-Wells

The Durham County Board of Election's request to extend voting hours in light of problems with electronic voting rolls this morning was approved—but amended to cover only specific precincts—by the State Board of Elections. Here's a list provided by the State Board of Elections:

In Durham County, Precincts 31 and 37 (Bethesda Ruritan Club and Cole Mill Rd Church of Christ) will allow all voters who showed up by 8:30pm to cast their ballot.

Precincts 9, 14, 27, 29, 32, and 50 will also be extended for twenty to forty five minutes.

They also considered whether to extend voting in two other counties: Dare and Columbus. The State Board chose not to extend hours in Dare, but giving Bogue Precinct in Columbus County another 30 minutes to vote.

This comes after Durham pollworkers switched to paper and pen voter roll checks. The Durham County Board of Elections made the decision to at the advice of the staff of the State Board of Elections, said Josh Lawson, the NSCBE's general counsel. Because of this switch, several precincts ran out of Authorization to Vote forms, which were supposed to be printed out through the electronic system.

Durham County had deployed volunteers to the eight precincts it had seen delays to give accurate counts of the delays at each precinct.

Democratic elected officials from former-Governor Jim Hunt to General Assembly member Floyd McKissick called on the State Board of Elections to extend polling for another hour and a half. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign director, Robby Mook, also requested the state board extend voting hours.

Durham County is a Democratic-leaning county with five times as many voters registered Democratic than Republican. The State Board of Elections is appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who is up for reelection today, and is majority Republican.


Stanley Deese, who says he voted for Donald J. Trump for president and a local Democrat for District Court Judge. Photo by Jesse Williams.

Stanley Deese, who says he voted for Donald J. Trump for president and a local Democrat for District Court Judge. Photo by Jesse Williams.

Fear and trust on a smooth voting day in Rocky Mount, North Carolina

by Jesse Williams

This morning I chatted with voters, poll workers, and campaigners at Johnson Elementary School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Johnson Elementary is the polling place for a heavily Black precinct—the kind of precinct that Democrats in North Carolina are counting on to deliver strong turnout. Between about 9:30 and 11 in the morning, voters trickled in by ones and twos, and at no point did the line extend past the door to the building. “I think most folks must’ve voted early,” said one Democratic campaigner who (although very friendly) declined to give her name. And indeed, the local Democratic campaign headquarters was buzzing with volunteers. One staff member there, who was directing volunteers to their canvassing material, said he was excited about the early turnout they’d secured.

Still, the folks at Johnson Elementary seemed to have been expecting more voters. “We’ll probably get long lines round four o’clock,” said one woman, just as my phone buzzed to tell me that if those lines did appear, I could use a web app to have free pizza sent to would-be voters as they waited. I asked if they’d been bothered by anyone—noting Donald Trump’s repeated calls for poll monitoring, which have broadly been interpreted as threatening voter intimidation. “This is Edgecombe County. They won’t come out here.” Everyone who entered the polling station did so with a Democratic sample ballot in hand. I wouldn’t be surprised if the precinct doesn’t give a single vote to Donald Trump.

In the midst of my conversations, a fire truck and ambulance arrived at the school with sirens blaring. A school janitor—himself a grandfather with children nearing elementary school age—waved six firemen and two paramedics into the building. A few minutes later, the paramedics and firemen remerged with a child—maybe six or eight years old—strapped to their stretcher.

When the fire truck first pulled up, the demeanor of the few poll watchers sharpened. They could be forgiven their suspicions: Out here in a small and mostly Black North Carolina town, sirens and mostly White first responders have a long history of causing problems as much as solving them. Many first responders support Trump. Today, though, they just showed up to help a kid.

Mrs. Josie Davis, who was distributing Democratic literature, explained to me that Johnson is home to a class of severely disabled children who often require medical attention. That’s why the janitor and the paramedics were on friendly terms: “Second time in two weeks—I wish I saw y’all less often.”

Elsewhere in Edgecombe County, other folks reported their own suspicions eased. A poll worker at the West Edgecombe Volunteer Fire Department told me she’d started working the polls because she wasn’t sure the process was fair. What’d she found? “Yeah, it is fair.” And why is she still doing it? “I guess I keep doing it because it’s my civic duty.”

She returned a few minutes later to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to report within the 50-foot buffer zone around the polling entrance. Before I could sort out my rights, her boss—an older White man—appeared to instruct me in much sharper terms that I couldn’t report there. Apparently they’d called the head of the county Board of Elections to confirm this. When I told him I’d spoken to a lawyer (which was true; I’d called a hotline at the Committee to Protect Journalists), he told me “lawyers don’t mean nothing out here, son.” That’s a bone-chilling thing to hear in a county where the Klan had long been active. I wasn’t worried, but I know many others would have been—and should have been, had he said the same to them.

The West Edgecombe VFD was only about two miles from Johnson Elementary, but here, about two-thirds of the voters were White. I spoke with a few of them as they left. I caught Ernie, a sixty-three year-old White man, just as a poll watcher finished debriefing him. (Tip for journalists: Your job is easier if someone else warms up your subject with questions like “Do you understand that if you misrepresented your name on the ballot, that’s a felony? Are you comfortable sharing your income for demographic purposes?”)

Ernie told me it’s the first time he’s voted in his life. “I don’t like what’s going on, and I don’t think my vote matters—but it’s worth a try.” He said he doesn’t like either candidate—“Trump’s got a mouth on him,” he said, and as for Clinton, “I don’t like nothing about her.” He said he thought we had to “get the country going right again,” and that he’d picked the candidate he thought would do better in that regard.

His concerns were vague—“just the way everything is going; it’s gotten worse and worse”—other than specific complaints with Obamacare and Clinton’s position on the Second Amendment. Ernie was patient with my questions and quick to follow his criticisms of both candidates (and complaints about the state of the country) with “in my opinion.” He said he’d left school after 11th grade, and was currently on Medicare.

Johnson Elementary School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Photo by Jesse Williams.

Johnson Elementary School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Photo by Jesse Williams.

Back at Johnson Elementary, Mrs. Davis said she was supporting Hillary Clinton because “those who are strong have to encourage the weak. We’re supposed to take care of the least of us.” In her assessment, “Hillary Clinton can be effective—she understands the Constitution and understands the needs of people who aren’t like here. You’ve got to understand those needs to provide equitable services. I just hope the Senate and House will support—support, not rubber stamp—her work.”

Still, Mrs. Davis also expressed concern about the way the country was headed—but what she saw lacking most of all was an ethos of community care. “We had years without much prosperity here but we made it because those who were successful would reach back and pull another brother forward. Even across racial lines.”

One of the reasons Rocky Mount had strayed from its path, she said, was that “the love of money got in the way of loving your neighbor.” And that’s sort of why she was out working on election day: “I’m here because in my experience, the greatest satisfaction comes from helping someone. Do that enough, and you can wash some of the selfishness right out of your heart.”

When I left, the poll watchers at the West Edgecombe VFD had gone on their way with no problems to report. A White man who says he’s voting for Trump scoots around stumping for a Black Democratic city councilman. “He was the only guy on that council who’d give me the time of day.” When I arrived later at another polling site—just by a rickety playground at Greater Joy Baptist Church—a White man distributing Republican literature is in lively and friendly conversation with two Black women distributing Democratic sample ballots. The poll watchers here are idle and kind.

As dusk descends on Rocky Mount, the day is still quiet. Selfishness and mistrust may simmer out of sight, but where people are meeting one another, they are still all citizens together—even in this feverish November, and even if they have to shoo away the occasional journalist.


Durham County's Bethesda Ruritan Club polling site. Photo by Sammy Feldblum.

Durham County's Bethesda Ruritan Club polling site. Photo by Sammy Feldblum.

Polls may stay open until 9pm in crucial Durham County

by Sammy Feldblum

After problems with their computers, Durham County, a crucial county in the swing state of North Carolina, is requesting that the State Board of Elections extend voting hours an extra hour-and-a-half, to 9pm. The request will be approved or rejected when the State Board meets later this afternoon, likely around 6pm, according to officials for the Durham County Board of Elections.

Problems were particularly bad at the Bethesda Ruritan Club on S. Miami Boulevard, in Durham, North Carolina: A Authorization to Vote form shortage meant that potential voters were unable to vote between roughly 9:30 and 11:00. About 20-25 voters were unable to vote, according to Jesse Gibson, there volunteering with the Democratic Party. According to Gibson, some people seemed particularly indignant about the difficulties, and vocally declared their intentions to return later—but about half seemed indifferent, and may not.

NC NAACP and Election Protection representatives descended on the polling location in response; Sharon A. Davis, running unopposed for the Durham County Commissioner of Deeds, also came.

Across the county, electronic pollbooks have been down for hours, and voters must check in manually. This has led to increased wait times throughout a Democratic stronghold in this swing state.

Durham County Public Information Specialist Briana Khan reports that the computer-check-in shutdown occurred in response to reports of problems at half a dozen precincts this morning. The shutdown’s impact could be felt more strongly later in the day, during the “evening rush,” predicts Felicia Robinson, volunteering at Bethesda Ruritan with the partisan Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

The Durham County Board of Elections has requested that the State Board of Elections keep polling places open for an extra hour and a half this evening, until 9pm rather than 7:30 pm. For the state to consider doing do, the County must demonstrate that there were delays at every precinct in response to the switch from electronic to manual pollbooks. Volunteers are collecting data in each precinct now, in advance of the State Board of Election’s meeting. If the polls do extend their hours, voters in the added time will cast “special provisional official ballots,” in case of a later challenge to the decision to keep polls open.

The five members of the State Board of Elections are appointed by the governor, Republican Pat McCrory, who is up for reelection in a tight race with the state's attorney general, Roy Cooper. Durham County, with its high concentration of Black and college-educated voters, is one of the most Democratic in the state: Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a factor of nearly five to one.

This all comes on the heels of Durham County electoral issues earlier this year. The County mishandled hundreds of ballots in the primary for the Board of County Commissioners. The state required that nearly nine hundred voters be allowed to recast their ballots, but decided that there was no need for a mulligan primary. In the aftermath, Gibson stopped working with the County Board of Elections: “there was some hanky-panky going on with the ballots. After the last scandal, I decided I didn’t want to be involved.”


What we're seeing so far this morning in North Carolina

by Evan Walker-Wells

[Posted 11:35am]

As early morning voting comes to a close and we get close to the lunch time rush, and then the early-afternoon lull, we're seeing bits and pieces of trouble with voting machines, but no widespread trends.

Here in Durham County, the check-in computers slowed down, leading poll workers to resort to the tool they've used in every other election: Paper voter roll look-up. There are reports of longer lines and more that we're following up on.

According to tips coming into our parntership with Electionland, there have been reports as well of optical voting machines—that scan the paper ballots North Carolinians vote on—breaking in precincts here and there throughout the state.

And one precinct in Durham, at the Bethesda Raritan Club, ran out of Intent to Vote forms. This prevented voters from getting to their ballots for at least forty minutes, one report said. We're looking into this more now.

But it's a beautiful day in North Carolina. And that tends to matter: Reports suggest that each inch of rainfall can depress voter turnout by one percent.

We're following up on reports of very long lines in Apex, NC—stay tuned. Apex has a booming Hispanic population—and it's one of the small cities where turnout may indicate whether, like Florida and Nevada, Hispanic voters in North Carolina turn North Carolina for Hillary Clinton. Many concerned about immigration may also have their sites on Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed H.B. 318 last spring. The law was designed to force local police forces to make immigration status a top-level enforcement concern—over those local police chiefs wanted to focus on.


Protesters in Raleigh.

Protesters in Raleigh.

Moore County voter behind the purge of over 400 people from North Carolina's voter rolls

by Michael Schulson

Who goes around purging their fellow citizens from voter rolls?

To find out, Scalawag called up Dee Park, who has spent much of the last year stripping names from the voter rolls of Moore County, North Carolina.

Until a successful NAACP lawsuit temporarily reversed her work last week, Park had helped purge close to 400 people from the voter list ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

An active member of the Moore County GOP, Park is also the co-founder and co-chair of the Very Involved Patriots/Voter Integrity Project. The group gets together to send mass mailings to inactive voters. If a piece of mail comes back as undeliverable, the VIP/VIP team challenges the voter’s status with the County Board of Elections.

Park told Scalawag that she helped start the VIP/VIP a few years ago, after working on a different project that was trying to identify people who were voting in two states. As she explained it, the work is a public service: The Board of Elections already has a process for removing people’s names from the rolls if they change addresses, but that process is slow. The Board doesn’t even look at someone until they have been inactive for two federal elections.

“We can help speed up the process and give people the opportunity to vote wherever they live,” Park said, describing the challenge process. She said that she was surprised by the NAACP suit. “We thought we were doing a service.”

Park told me this didn’t have to do with partisan politics, though, and that they sent the mailers without regard to party affiliation, age, gender, or race. When you look down the list of purged voters in Moore County, more than 100 are registered Republicans, and the majority are White.

Scalawag called close to twenty people on the list; the only person we managed to reach responded that she had, in fact, left Moore County and moved across the country two years ago.

Still, the possibility for error here is large. And the purge seems to have disproportionately affected Black and Democratic voters. “I had a gut feeling that something was not right,” said O’Linda Watkins, the chair of the Moore County NAACP, who learned about the scope of the VIP/VIP challenges at a county Board of Elections meetings and alerted NAACP lawyers to the purge. “We’re always out there to protect the voter,” she said.

In its suit, the NAACP alleged that election boards in three North Carolina counties—Beaufort, Cumberland, and Moore—had removed voters from the rolls based only on returned mailers. They argued that this process could eliminate people who had only moved within the county, or who had been unable to receive the letter for some other reason.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs issued an injunction and reinstated all the purged voters.

When I spoke with Park, she told me that she had no evidence that fraud was taking place. I asked her about outcomes: Didn’t her actions make it likelier that a legitimate voter would be turned away than that an illegitimate voter would be stopped? How did she deal with that calculus?

Park said that I was splitting hairs, and that this was like counting the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin—irrelevant stuff. Some voters were on the rolls who shouldn't be there. VIP/VIP could fix that.

Asked about the long history of White Southerners suppressing the vote of Black citizens, she grew a bit more reflective. “I never experienced slavery from any perspective," she said. “I don't know what it’s like to walk in the shoes of someone whose ancestors, not so far back, lived in slavery." On the other hand, she added, "it's time for them realize... we might better spend the rest of our lives not redressing grievances that have been settled in past years.”


A truck next to a polling place in Pfafftown, North Carolina. Photo by Chad Nance.

Pro-Trump militia vehicle appears next to polling place in Pfafftown, North Carolina

by Chad Nance

Voters heading to the polls in Pfafftown, North Carolina on Tuesday will not be able to help but notice a large, military style truck with a desert paint job sitting on private property directly across the road from the Pfafftown Christian Church. The vehicle sports Trump paraphernalia, including a “Deplorables for Trump” yard sign and a large banner with a snarky message for any “sheep” who might be voting Democrat. Also stenciled clearly on the bumper is “Pfafftown Militia”. If there is such an organized group, they have no web presence. The military vehicle is currently sitting on private property owned by 71 year-old Robert Emmett Walker directly across the road from one of Pfafftown’s polling locations.

The vehicle has also shown up at several local events in Forsyth and Stokes County, North Carolina including a Confederate Flag rally on August 1st of 2015 in King, NC (following which this reporter received a death threat from one of the event organizers.) and a Fourth of July parade in Kernersville, a small town on the other side of Forsyth County from Pfafftown.

Tip thanks to ProPublica's ElectionLand project. Reporting thanks to Camel City Dispatch.

Photo by Chad Nance

Photo by Chad Nance

Photo by Chad Nance