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DeKalb Elections Board considers delaying election certification amid questions about District 2 race

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DeKalb Elections Board considers delaying election certification amid questions about District 2 race

A map of DeKalb County.

This story has been updated.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Elections Board has just concluded the first of two meetings scheduled for Tuesday, May 31.

Initially, it was expected the board would certify the results of the May 24 primary when the meeting was scheduled on May 19. But things went sideways after questions arose about the results of the DeKalb County Commission District 2 race, and now the board will meet again at 4:30 p.m. to discuss it. At that meeting, the board may consider delaying the certification of some or all the election results.

The state won’t certify until next Friday, a source tells Decaturish, so there’s no immediate effect on other races in the state by DeKalb County delaying things for a few days to find answers to questions about the election. The worst immediate consequence would be a fine for VRE for missing the 5 p.m. deadline for certification.

A longer-term consequence may be the erosion of confidence in the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Department and the Secretary of State’s ability to oversee an election that will produce an objectively credible result.

After conducting a hand-count that began Sunday afternoon and didn’t conclude until 12:30 a.m. on May 31, the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Executive Director Keisha Smith was still unable to produce the results of the hand count of the District 2 race. Decaturish was the only media outlet in the room when the count ended at 12:30 a.m. and left when, at 2 a.m., Smith said more data entry employees were needed to finish the tally.

As of noon on May 31, that tally had not been completed, meaning it is unclear whether the June 21 runoff will feature candidates Marshall Orson and Lauren Alexander or if Michelle Long Spears will garner enough additional votes to make that runoff or win the race outright.

“We have tally sheets that we are now keying into our database at this time, so we have about four or five teams of two keying the remaining tallies into our database,” Smith told the Elections Board during the noon meeting. “That’s where we are right now.”

Skepticism of the election results crossed party lines. The District 2 race was the Democratic primary. With no Republican on the ballot for that seat, the winner of the race would likely win the seat outright, barring a successful write-in candidate.

Orson attended the noon meeting and called the hand count of the totals following questions about the result a “deeply flawed” process.

“I’m raising a question not only about the process and the problems,” he said. “I’m skeptical about whether we can rely on the printed ballots produced by the machines if the inputs on those ballots were wrong, to begin with.”

Spears spoke only to thank election staff for working diligently to get to the bottom of what happened. Had Spears not raised questions on Election Night, it’s unclear whether the result would be in doubt at all. Some precincts were reporting she received zero votes – including her own precinct. Spears took pictures of the precinct-level results and showed them to Decaturish on Monday during day two of the hand count. Her supporters, including commissioners Jeff Rader and Ted Terry, began publicly raising questions about what happened.

Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, asked the Elections Board to get a court order to extend the certification deadline by at least 48 hours so campaigns and the public can see tallies by precinct.

“It is wholly unacceptable for the board to certify any results in this District 2 election without giving voters, candidates, political parties, and press adequate time to review to data in detail to identify and communicate any errors or discrepancies in the unofficial results to the board prior to certification,” Marks said in an email to the board. “Certification cannot be thought of as an easily reversible step. It will control whether there is a runoff and whether the candidate is entitled to a recount. You are putting voters, candidates, or parties in the position of having to spend scores of thousands in legal fees to challenge board errors in the certification process. Please have respect for the voters and avoid an unnecessary and reckless rush to certification of this contest. It is completely unnecessary when DeKalb Superior Court would certainly grant an extension for District 2 certification under the circumstances if requested by the board.”

The Coalition says the hand count was done “without legal authority and without written rules or procedures governing it.”

There are still many unanswered questions about the errors that led to the hand count. Here’s what is known so far.

Don Broussard dropped out of the race for the DeKalb Commission District 2 seat. That withdrawal caused a mistake in the programming of the precinct scanner and led to inaccurate vote counts for two candidates. The SOS office also said there the text of one Republican Party question was not properly appearing during early voting, and five precincts in DeKalb were redistricted into the county commission District 2 race, but those precincts had not been updated to reflect that change.

Those issues resulted in the creation of new databases for the May 24 election. The databases map out ballot styles and precincts for voters.

DeKalb VRE has not directly answered whether the errors that produced questionable results in District 2 could’ve affected other races.

“I feel like this was an isolated event. I do,” Smith told reporters during the hand count on May 30.

Did she have evidence that the problems were limited to the District 2 race?

“I don’t have evidence that it wasn’t an isolated event,” she replied.

But the problems with District 2 and the Republican Party question prompted candidates in other races to take a closer look at their own results.

Jenine Milum, a Republican candidate for State House District 82, had questions about the results in her race. Milum will face incumbent Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver in the November election.

“There are 10 of my precincts where I just have a total of votes, not broken out by absentee, by mail…,” she said.  “The totals don’t match. I’ve got questions about why I can’t see the breakout of my votes in the precinct, and why totals don’t match what’s being reported by the Secretary of State.”

The Legal Department told the Elections Board they have three options: they can certify the results, delay certification of the results, or certify all results except the District 2 County Commission race.

Karli Swift, an Elections Board member, asked about the possibility of doing a hand recount of the entire election. The Elections Board’s legal team said they would need to research that question.

Vice Chair Nancy Jester asked a series of pointed questions to try and figure out what happened. She drilled down on when the county conducted logic and accuracy testing of the machines following changes made after the errors were discovered.

“My particular philosophy is, do the people’s business in front of the people, as much as we can be disclosure oriented and transparent, so the public can understand the linear path that got us there,” she said.

She asked for the results of all the logic and accuracy tests of machines after changes were made.

“My concern when asked as a board member to certify this election: I should feel confident about the District 2 election because we’re doing this hand count,” Jester said. “What I don’t know is the unknown unknowns in any other race.”

No board member accused anyone at the Elections Board of intentionally manipulating the election results. They just wanted clearer answers about what happened.

“This office and the staff they are working hard,” Swift said. “There should be no assumption anyone has acted in bad faith or negligently. As we work to ensure that this is an accurate election, I want us to be clear that everyone here is working to that goal and that end.”

Reporter Zoe Seiler contributed to this story. 

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