FIRST ON 3: Veterans upset about military ballots made public
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The security of absentee ballots from members of the military and other voters sent to the New Hanover County Board of Elections may have been compromised via a public e-mail server, WWAY has learned.
The ballots sent from troops and other citizens abroad can be returned by mail, e-mail or fax to the Board of Elections. When the ballots are faxed to the New Hanover County Board of Elections, they are turned into an e-mail and sent to Elections Director Marvin McFadyen. The e-mails with ballots are accessible to the public on the county’s public e-mail terminal at the New Hanover County Government Center.
WWAY was able to open and view not only the personal information of the voters, including address, last four digits of Social Security Numbers and a copy of the voter’s driver license, but also the voter’s entire completed ballot.
The news came as a surprise this morning to Board of Elections Chair John Ferrante.
“There’s really nothing I can say. I didn’t know. I’ve never heard of this,” Ferrante said when reached by phone this morning. “It sounds like something we should inquire about. Rest assured I will inquire about it.”
The Board of Elections met today for recounts of three races from the Nov. 4 election, including New Hanover County Commission. They also discussed a protest filed yesterday about the handling of sample ballots at a Wilmington polling place. They dismissed that protest.
During the meeting, Derek Bowens, who handles absentee ballots with the Board of Elections, said that members of the military sign away their privacy rights when they submit their ballot electronically. He added that they sign a statement in which they acknowledge that they understand the breach of privacy, to the extent of which the processing of the ballot is required. Bowens would not expand on who typically should have access to those ballots during said processing.
Josh Lawson with the State Board of Elections issued the following statement:
“State Board personnel are in communication with staff at the New Hanover Board of Elections. It is our understanding that action has been taken to remove access to confidential communications. We also understand the county attorney is monitoring the situation to prevent improper disclosure. Voted ballots, voter signatures, and other personal identifiers are confidential under both state and federal law.”
The New Hanover County Board of Elections has launched an investigation, and says they have moved the emails to a secure server.
Veterans like Jody Branham are still disturbed about the news.
“Our Marines and our soldiers have enough to worry about right now to have to worry about whether their name and their ballot becomes open to the public,” Branham said. “My son voted down here absentee ballot, and it is troubling that his information might be out there now.”
WWAY has requested comment from the following: Gov. Pat McCrory, Sen. Kay Hagan, Sen. Richard Burr, Senator-Elect Thom Tillis, Rep. Walter B. Jones and Rep. Mike McIntyre.
Representative-Elect David Rouzer issued the following statement:
“Our service members answer the call of duty to protect our freedoms and keep North Carolina families safe. The mere possibility of a violation of personal privacy and ballot security is unacceptable. I have contacted the North Carolina Board of Elections to ensure this matter is handled properly,” Rouzer said.