Rowan County Early Voting Site Left Unlocked

A concerned citizen forwarded an email to me earlier this week reporting that the Rowan County Board of Elections (BOE) office in Salisbury was left unlocked on the morning of Saturday, February 24. Like in most counties, the Rowan BOE office is used as an early voting site.

The problem was discovered by a voter who mistakenly believed that there was early voting in Rowan County that day (there was not). The voter said she walked in because the door was unlocked, but the lights were off, and nobody was inside. She reported that other people were also walked in and left. According to the report, a BOE employee eventually came to watch over the site until the offices’ automatic locking mechanism could be fixed.

Obviously, a BOE office and early voting site being left unsecured is a serious concern.

Rowan County Election Board’s Take on the Incident

I reached out to the Rowan BOE. Elections Director Sharon Main replied with a statement. Here is a summary:

  • The doors at the office automatically unlocked at 8:00 AM due to a “scheduling error with the host company.”
  • A review of security camera footage revealed that several people opened the door between 9:00 AM and 10:10 AM, but none went in more than a step.
  • “Ballots were all stored and locked in cabinets. All cabinets were still locked. The room with ballots was still locked. There was no indication that anyone had tampered with ballots, cabinets, or machinery.”
  • There was also no sign that any of the site’s computers were tampered with.

The full statement is at the end of this report.

Nothing “Nefarious”

One of the first people on site on the morning of the incident was a representative of the Rowan County Republican Party. I briefly spoke with the county party chair, Tony Yon. He said that, based on what he had heard from someone who was there, he did not think “anything nefarious” had happened.

(I also reached out the the Rowan Democratic Party to get their reaction. I will update this post if they get back to me.)

So, what should we make of this incident?

I believe this is another time when Hanlon’s razor is a useful mental tool. I recently wrote about it in another context at Carolina Journal:

I believe Hanlon’s razor is useful here. Like its more famous cousin, Occam’s razor, Hanlon’s razor is a mental tool to help us think about situations more clearly. Its most common formulation is, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” German author Johann Goethe offered a more generous and less absolute version:

Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.

There is a natural tendency to ascribe organized malicious intent to actions that harm or confound us. Rather than assume that someone intended harm with their actions, the more straightforward explanation often is that the person did so out of ignorance or because they made a mistake.

Indeed, Yon offered his own version of Hanlon’s razor when he said he saw the incident as just a case of “humans being humans.”

While we should be concerned whenever an election site is unsecured, in this case, it appears that no damage was done and nothing “nefarious” was intended.