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Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

County Election Workers Doing Mandatory Sample Counts Of Ballots; Here's A Look At Gaston County's

Gaston County sample hand count audit
Coleen Harry
Precinct 29 worker Doris Gray holding up a stack of ballots

This article is made possible through a partnership between WFAE and Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of our republishing policy.

Put a checkmark next to Gaston County’s sample ballot count. Precinct workers did a hand count of some of the ballots voted on Election Day, and they confirmed that the machines have it right.

“We like to make sure that we’re not about speed,” said Elections Director Adam Ragan. “We’re about accuracy and we want to make sure the machines are reading the ballots correctly. We’re making sure the hand count - when you look at the ballot itself - is matching what the machines told us as well.”

The sample count is not exactly political high drama, but it is meticulous.

State law says the North Carolina State Board of Elections must conduct a sample count audit after each election. After the general election on Tuesday, state officials randomly selected precincts, early voting sites, or absentee mail-in ballots for a sample count of the presidential race.

In Gaston County, precincts 29 and 34 were selected to count ballots cast on Election Day. Friday morning, in two rooms at the Gaston County Elections Office, members of the county board of elections watched as precinct workers conducted the audits.

“It is something you can get your arms around and see with your own two eyes that the numbers match what the machine is tabulating,” said James Ragan, chair of the Gaston County Board of Elections (no relation to Adam Ragan). “This is the kind of the final check that reinforces the fact that the machines are working as they are supposed to be working, and they’re accurately picking up the ballot entries.”

The ballots were locked in blue ballot boxes, and when it was time to start, Elections Director Adam Ragan took the ballot box for precinct 29 (New Hope) to one room, then the ballots for precinct 34 (Landers Chapel) to a separate room.

When Ragan told workers they could start, each room fell silent, except for the voices of the people counting.

Gaston County sample hand count audit
Coleen Harry
Precinct worker taking a stack of ballots to count

Doris Gray, a precinct 29 worker, reached into the ballot box and grabbed a stack of ballots. Gray read the name of the presidential candidate selected on each ballot.

Vote talliers Ellen Roberts and Gayle Goodrich sat directly across from Gray, each with a paper on the table. As Gray called out a name, Roberts and Goodrich tallied.

When Gray completed a stack, she reached into the box and pulled out another stack.

In the other room, the same process was unfolding for the Landers Chapel precinct. Christine Wilhauck read the name of the candidate selected on the ballots, while Brenda Walker and Shirley Biggers tallied.

Board Chair James Ragan watched precinct 29 workers do the count.

“That’s why it’s important I think - to be able to do that and to be able to do it in a way where anybody sitting around the table could see exactly what was happening in that regard,” he said.

According to the county board of elections, New Hope has 4,756 registered voters. Of that number:

  • 2,786 chose early voting.
  • 649 did absentee mail-in.
  • 480 voted on Election Day.

In the sample hand count of Election Day votes, workers counted 378 votes for President Trump (Republican), 89 for Joseph Biden (Democrat), 7 for Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian), 3 write-ins, and 3 ballots with no candidate selected.

The 480 total that workers counted for the presidential race is the same as the machine’s count.

In Landers Chapel, there are 2,306 registered voters:

  • 1,267 chose early voting.
  • 164 did absentee mail-in.
  • 346 voted on Election Day.

Of the Election Day ballots, precinct workers counted 305 votes for President Trump, 35 for Joseph Biden, 2 votes for Don Blankenship, 3 for Jo Jorgensen, and 1 ballot without a selection for president.

The total sample count of 346 matches the machine’s tabulation.

The sample count is open to residents. Arcangela Mazzariello of Gastonia watched the audit.

“I’ve been a ballot watcher since day one of this election because I knew there was going to be challenges to it,” Mazzariello said. “I wanted to watch the process.”