In Surry County there are concerns about the 2020 elections that have been stoked anew and paired with rhetoric so strong it is making national headlines.
Last Monday a group of eight people expressed concerns found during a door-to-door canvass they are doing using voter logs from 2020. They told the county commissioners they were finding and hearing repeated claims of voter fraud and wanted to bring the matter before the board for their attention.
The complaints are summarized as voter registration irregularities, vote totals that do not match expected population counts, voting machine fears, a desire to move back to a paper ballot, as well as an absentee ballot that never arrived. The group also wants what it is calling a forensic audit done of the 2020 election to include a full inspection of all voting equipment.
Reuters news service reported over the weekend that Surry County Republican Party chair Keith Senter, “told elections director Michella Huff that he would ensure she lost her job if she refused his demand to access the county’s vote tabulators, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said in written responses to questions from Reuters,” the news service wrote. “Senter was ‘aggressive, threatening, and hostile,’ in two meetings with Huff, the state elections board said, citing witness accounts.”
“We just had a difference of opinion,” Huff said Monday of those two meetings in March with Senter about his concerns and desire to look inside voting machines. “That’s just not how it works in North Carolina.”
She gave Senter and Dr. Douglas Franks paths for recourse if they investigate they found errors in the canvass, and that her office would immediately any voter challenge forms. She also advised them that any claims of fraud would need to be addressed by the state board of elections.
Senter said he was told by Huff’s office that an audit had been done, but he countered only a recount had been done. If there were wrong data, counting the same data sets again would yield no difference.
“If you line up ten apples, and five of them are wood, you still have ten apples, but five of them are false. It’s the same with votes, you can count votes over and over, and get the same result. What if five of them are fraudulent?”
Mark Payne, a lawyer hired by Surry County, presented the following to the Board of Elections on April 20, “To date, the only specific request/demand presented is a demand for a ‘forensic audit.’ It should be noted here that there is no legal definition of a ‘forensic audit’ and because of the colloquial use of this term on a national level, at this time the request is vague.”
There is a common thread of mistrust in voting machines that pervade arguments of election fraud. An elected county official said they were told a microchip or modem inside was rumored to have been a culprit for election results. “There was a problem with the internet connections, that’s what I’ve heard Mike Lindell say,” canvasser Suzanne Richards said. Lindell is the CEO of My Pillow Inc., and also a well-known conservative activitist who has insisted President Trump did not lose the 2020 presidential election.
“Voting machines and systems used in North Carolina are secure and have been certified to federal and state standards. They may not, under state law, be connected to the internet, and do not contain modems despite rampant misinformation otherwise,” Huff said in response.
“No election system or voting system in North Carolina has ever been the target of a successful cyberattack. Every piece of voting equipment is tested before every election, and the results are audited afterwards. Bipartisan teams participate in every step of the process, and the public can observe pre-election testing and post-election audits. We are happy to provide additional information on these topics if parties wish,” she wrote Thursday.
There has been a request to access the voting machine by the canvassers, to which Payne offers, “Under NC elections law, it is neither lawful nor appropriate to allow anyone other than authorized elections staff to have physical access to the machines.”
He said the law prohibits it and allowing such access would void the warranty on the machines, which would lead to decertification of some, or all, of the county’s voting machines. “This will expose the commissioners and the taxpayers to significant financial loss to purchase new voting machines or recertifying current machines.”
Kevin Shinault pointed to what he referred to as “statistical improbabilities, and statistical impossibilities.” He said in Surry County that, “everybody over the age of 80 is registered to vote, that’s a statistical impossibility if you know math.”
Huff replied, “We would ask where the information about voters over age 80 and the methodology used in this claim. Claims like this often arise from comparing registered voters of a certain age with the voting age population in a county as reported by the US Census Bureau for a different period of time. Comparing these data is not statistically or mathematically sound.”
John Bose summarized it this way, “I know the heat is on, but I make a plea for you to have courage. We do not have faith in the elections process.” He, with other speakers, offered stories of veterans, freedom, and sacrifice to set a tone before dispensing serious claims of voter fraud.
“When we got there for training they started with a video, and it was nothing but graves of men who had died for someone like me,” Shannon Senter said. She mentioned the sacrifice of her own ancestors which gave her the right to speak to the board.
“They sacrificed, and I don’t ever want to forget that. That’s what gives me freedom. I thought about my grandbaby and what I’ll say to him when he is living in tyranny 20 years from now and don’t have the freedoms that I have.”
“What I would like to address is the door-to-door canvassing that is currently occurring,” Huff went on. “We, the Board of Elections, and staff want to remind voters that we would never go door-to-door seeking information from voters about any election business. These people are not election officials. We would ask any voter to ask the canvasser to verify their identity and their organization.”
The canvassers told the board that they had data driven stops and were not simply going door to door. Furthermore, they said the occasional citizen may have offered up who they voted for in 2020, but that was not asked nor was it their mission to find that out.
“Most people have thanked us and said this is long overdue,” Paula Stanley explained of her canvassing experience.
Gayle Norman echoed that, “I went down a different route, but the end result was the same. We have older people who are saying the vote in person when our logs show a mail-in/absentee ballot.”
“To date, we have not received any evidence or specifics regarding this second-hand account, so we have no way to verify it or respond,” said Huff.
A specific complaint from a traveling nurse who requested twice and never received her absentee ballot while out of state did get Huff’s attention. “My vote was taken away, I’m mad,” Ms. Bose told the commissioners. A United States Air Force veteran, she said she tracked her absentee ballot request online and when she saw her first ballot never arrived, requested another – which also did not arrive.
To have not been able to cast a vote is understandably upsetting, especially to a veteran of the armed services. “We are concerned if she requested a ballot, was eligible, and didn’t receive one. To our knowledge, no one has reached out to the county board of elections about this issue,” Huff said.
Huff went on, “My number one goal and focus is the current election. We are actively working on each day and night. I want to ensure all voters regarding of Surry County that security of election equipment is a high priority for this office and any claim the validity of our equipment is taken seriously.
“I do not want voters of Surry County to walk out of a precinct without casting their ballot after they have checked in and received a ballot due to misinformation about the voting tabulators. If any voter would like to call our office concerning any process in casting their ballot, I encourage them to call our office.”