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Candidate questions results of District 2 County Commission race

campaign coverage Metro ATL

Candidate questions results of District 2 County Commission race

March 4, 2022. Decatur, GA. Michelle Long Spears. Photo by Michael A. Schwarz

This story has been updated. 

By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — The race for one DeKalb County Commissioner is not yet over, according to one of the candidates.

DeKalb County Commissioner District 2 candidate Michelle Long Spears said that during the primary, May 24, some precincts were reporting she received zero votes – including her own precinct. 

Spears asked DeKalb County for a hand count of ballots, saying several precincts reported zero votes in her favor. She is running for Jeff Rader’s seat against outgoing DeKalb School Board Member Marshall Orson and Lauren Alexander, a consultant and activist. 

The DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Department confirmed it is conducting a hand count of ballots but has said a “display error” is to blame for the discrepancies Spears saw. 

VRE spokesperson Erik Burton said no other races are being hand-counted at this time. 

“Our unofficial and incomplete results are available online, and we look forward to certifying those next Tuesday,” he said. 

Later, Burton added, “We are advancing efforts to ensure the accuracy of this election and look forward to certifying the results on May 31.”

Here are the results reported by the Georgia Secretary of State’s website as of May 25: 

District 2

Lauren Alexander – 34.67% 

Marshall Orson – 41.35%

MIchelle Long Spears – 23.98%

Total votes cast: 12,639

Spears said she is grateful DeKalb Elections is investigating her concerns. 

“I truly do have confidence in DeKalb Elections. I don’t think there was anything nefarious about this,” said Spears. “I just think it was a technical error and a mistake, and I’m very grateful that the county is working to resolve it.”

Don Broussard dropped out of the race for DeKalb Commissioner District 2, but his name appeared on absentee ballots. 

Spears said she noticed something was awry in the middle of the day on May 24. She drove to her precinct to photograph results, which she said also reported zero votes. 

“I went to the precinct where my husband and I both voted, which would have at least been two votes: my husband and myself. It also reported zero. Then I started to elevate this issue to my campaign team,” Spears said. 

Spears said she spoke with DeKalb Elections Vice Chair Nancy Jester, who assured her the elections department “would get to the bottom of this.”

“Obviously, there are some discrepancies in the race. I’m very confident that our Election folks will get to the bottom of it, but we alerted them immediately,” Spears said.  

DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry, who supported Spears by canvassing with her and hosting a fundraiser for her, said he believes the voting process is to blame. 

“There are clearly complexities. In this case, an error or a flaw in the system has been identified. So in one way, it’s good that this has been discovered now,” said Terry.    

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, there were 14,798 more votes cast in District 3 than in District 2. That’s unusual due to the size of District 2,  Terry said. District 2 is the largest of all districts after reapportionment, but they had the lowest turnout, Terry said.  

Marshall Orson

Orson said the number of votes cast is within the range of what his campaign expected.

“We think we finished first and are headed to a runoff,” Orson said in a post on his campaign Facebook page. “But, it is DeKalb, so there has to be some drama. There are some questions about the vote count and possible discrepancies with the precinct level tapes. Could be a counting problem or could be a formatting problem. … DeKalb elections is undertaking a hand recount. So, we will not know the final result for a while, but we are proceeding on the assumption we are in a runoff. And that runoff will come quick. Runoff election date is June 21st. Early voting is the week of June 13th.”

It’s important to note that while some people are using count and recount interchangeably in this discussion, they are not the same thing. What’s happening in the District 2 commission race is a hand count and not a recount, which is governed by state law. 

State law doesn’t require an automatic recount of votes, according to Georgia.gov

“However, based on Georgia H.B. 316 (2019), a candidate can request a recount if the margin is less than or equal to 0.5%,” the Georgia.gov website says. “That request has to be made within two business days of the results being certified.”

However, there is another way a recount can happen.

“If there is a suspected error or discrepancy in the returns, an election official can ask for a recount,” the Georgia.gov website says. 

Lauren Alexander

Alexander is looking ahead to the June 21 runoff election with Orson. 

“My campaign is about bringing new leadership and a fresh perspective to solve the challenges that District 2 and DeKalb County is facing including affordability, quality of life, infrastructure, protecting civil and voting rights, improving the relationship between the county and our cities, and public safety issues,” Alexander said. “Democratic voters in District 2 have an important choice to make in the runoff, I encourage them to turn out and make their voice count next month. Our campaign begins anew today.” 

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