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DeKalb District 2 candidates in disputed election call for release of hand tally results

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DeKalb District 2 candidates in disputed election call for release of hand tally results

DeKalb Elections workers run test ballots through voting machines during the DeKalb County Commission District 2 recount on Saturday, May 28, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — The three candidates in the DeKalb County Commission District 2 race are asking DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections to release the results of a hand tally in the disputed election.

DeKalb VRE will not release the results of the hand count of paper ballots, which election workers finished at 12:30 a.m. on May 31, citing questions about the accuracy of the count.

Decaturish has filed a formal records request for the immediate release of this information with an explanation about why election officials feel the hand tally count is inaccurate. If the county VRE does not release this information, Decaturish has asked for a legal basis for withholding it.

The DeKalb County Elections Board on Tuesday, May 31, declined to certify the results of the May 24 primary. Certification could occur as early as Friday at 5 p.m.

Initially, it was expected that the board would certify the results of the May 24 primary on May 31. But the board decided to delay certification until this Friday.

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. Tuesday deadline for certification.

DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Executive Director Keisha Smith asked for the delay in certifying the election.

“I do want to report that we are not done identifying and accurate tabulation,” Smith said Tuesday. “We’ve worked diligently. We have worked throughout the night, long hours, and I cannot provide today an accurate calculation or tabulation of votes. I do again just want to thank you all for supporting us through this effort. But I am not confident that what I have today is what I want to present to this board for certification.”

At this time, it is unclear whether the June 21 District 2 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.

Candidates voiced their frustration with the county’s decision to withhold the results of the hand tally from the public. Alexander said it was time for the county to provide more information to the public about what happened.

“I believe that DeKalb County Elections should provide further transparency about the errors that have led to this unprecedented situation,” she said. “They should either release the totals and tabulations they have at this point in time or explain in more detail why they cannot release these numbers and why they believe they are erroneous. It’s important to me that the public have full knowledge of what has gone wrong in this election so that it doesn’t happen again, and the issues can be resolved in a way that is fair to the citizens of DeKalb County.”

Spears, who first brought the discrepancies to light, shares the frustrations of the other candidates.

“The results from my election are quite vexing,” Spears said. “I am disappointed we have not received results yet. Errors have been made. Communication has been slow. I trust, however, that as the state and local folks continue to unpack the discrepancies that my team discovered a week ago, we’ll get to the bottom of this mess. I’ve been fighting for a week to preserve the integrity of our election process and I’ll continue to do so until we feel confident in the results and can then move on to planning for a runoff.”

Orson asked for more transparency from DeKalb VRE.

“While I appreciate that DeKalb Elections is working to ensure that accurate results ultimately are obtained in the District 2 race, it is critical that they operate in a transparent and forthcoming manner,” he said. “Having gone to the time and expense of undertaking a hand count, and putting aside for the moment the lack of a clear legal basis for doing so, it would make sense to publish the results and an explanation of why they believe the hand count is not an accurate reflection of the votes cast. The failure to provide ongoing details allows for speculation and conspiracy theories to flourish.”

Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, has also called for the release of this information. She called the decision not to release this information, “highly irregular” and “against basic democratic methods of elections.”

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.

It’s not clear exactly what caused the election board’s current predicament.

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 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.

It’s not clear whether the county conducted all the proper logic and accuracy testing necessary once those new databases were created. It’s also unclear whether other elections were affected by the creation of the new databases.

Elections Board Vice Chair Nancy Jester 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 during a May 31 Elections Board meeting. “What I don’t know is the unknown unknowns in any other race.”

Reporter Zoe Seiler contributed to this story. 

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