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DeKalb Elections director says ballots have been accurately tabulated, board certifies results

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DeKalb Elections director says ballots have been accurately tabulated, board certifies results

A DeKalb Elections worker scans advance voting ballots on Saturday, May 28, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections certified the results of the May 24 during a special called meeting on June 3, after missing the state’s certification deadline on May 31.

During the meeting, DeKalb Elections Director Keisha Smith said the votes have been accurately tabulated.

“As we all are aware, a technical error in the precinct scanners that impacted the DeKalb County Commission District [2] race was discovered quickly after our unofficial and incomplete tabulations were generated and shared after the May 24 election,” Smith said. “To rectify this issue, our first and immediate course of action was to take a comprehensive look at the cause of the error and to determine a proper course forward to ensure each vote cast was reflected in the data we will present to the board of registration and elections to certify.”

The DeKalb Board of Elections moved the certification to Friday following questions about the District 2 County Commission race between Lauren Alexander, Marshall Orson and Michelle Long Spears. On Election Night, May 24, Orson and Alexander lead and were headed to a runoff. But following a hand count, Orson’s vote totals decreased and Spears’ vote totals increased. Now, Alexander and Spears will be on the ballot in the June 21 runoff.

DeKalb VRE is working with the Secretary of State and the Center for Election System to isolate the issues in the District 2 race.

“Challenges with redistricting, as well as the removal of a candidate from the District 2 contest, required a series of resolutions that ultimately caused a misallocation of votes as displayed during the May 24 unofficial and incomplete summary reports,” Smith said. “DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections also worked diligently in line with guidance from the Secretary of State to advance a tabulation method that would yield accurate results in the district 2 contest. Our hand tabulation has yielded results that are reflective of the ballots cast by over 18,600 voters in the district.”

Smith also acknowledged that the hand count changed the outcome of the VRE’s initial unofficial and incomplete reports. The office has received multiple requests for recounts.

“However, today, I can assure this board and the people of District 2 and all other voters across DeKalb County that their vote and their ballots have been accurately tabulated to the assigned candidates of their choice,” Smith said.

During the hand count, DeKalb VRE used three-person teams to visually and verbally confirm each ballot. Election workers were able to conduct concurrent audits of all other races to confirm the technical error was isolated to the county commission District 2 race because the Elections Board delayed certification.

“This action would normally be performed after May 24 and before the state certification deadline, but our efforts shifted to ensuring an accurate count in this district 2 contest,” Smith said.

DeKalb VRE additionally did spot checks of ballot images for the Republican governor race, the Senate District 55 race, the House District 82 race, and the county commissioner 3 race.

“Today, I can announce before this board that these results are accurate and reflect the ballots cast via absentee ballots, provisional ballots, votes cast during the advanced voting period and on Election Day,” Smith said. “Our team has worked around the clock to get to this point and to double and triple check our tabulations, so we can certify this election, prepare for a quickly approaching runoff and then shift our attention towards the November general election.”

The BRE also voted to deny the multiple requests for recounts they have received until 5 p.m. today.

During the meeting, candidates Andrew Bell, Diane Adoma and Jeanne Seaver requested more information about their races and asked for a recount for the DeKalb County Commission District 3, Stonecrest mayor, and the lieutenant governor races. The DeKalb County GOP also requested recounts of the Republican Secretary of State race, the DeKalb County School Board District 2 race, and the House District 82 race.

Bell, a candidate in the county commission District 2 race, filed a lawsuit against the DeKalb Elections Board and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In the lawsuit, Bell stated that the irregularities in the District 2 race could be present in other elections, and he requested a recount of the DeKalb County Commission District 3 race.

The court denied the petition for a recount in the county commission District 3 race on June 3, DeKalb County Attorney Terry Phillips confirmed during the meeting.

Board members were generally satisfied with the results of the hand count of the District 2 race, as well as the outcomes of the other races in the primary election. BRE Vice Chair Nancy Jester said she felt “optimistic” about the validity of the District 2 race.

“I feel like the department handled that just like we should have,” Jester said. “I have questions about the processes and controls of the elections in our state.”

“I have a lot of questions, but I don’t have anything before me.. that would compel me to say we can’t move forward. We can always go back and recertify. We can always keep looking,” Jester added.

Jester also noted she’s not comfortable with all the processes and programming used in the May 24 primary, but the board had to move forward in thoughtful ways. All the issues that occurred in this election must be fixed before November, she said.

“We have to have robust testing. We have to have better software programming locked down, tested maybe earlier in advance, all of those things,” Jester said. “I don’t want the public to think I’m just happy to certify this election or that my certification means I’m not going to come back and ask for something to be recertified because anywhere along the way, I will do so if I discover anything out of sorts. Because that’s my commitment to the public.”

Board member Karli Swift said she has been frustrated with the situation.

“This is a complex situation that frankly we did not create,” Swift said. “That said, we as a Board of Elections are responsible for administrating the election on a timeline that’s been presented to us and has been created by the state legislature.”

Senate Bill 202 has shortened the timeline for certification. Under previous voting laws, the deadline for certification would have been June 3, but this year, the state’s certification deadline was May 31.

Although, board member Anthony Lewis cast the lone vote against certifying the May 24 election results, stating he would’ve like to see data before today and see more data that suggests the programming issues only impacted the county commission District 2 race. He would also like to see DeKalb VRE perform a public audit of the machines.

How we got here

Issues arose in the county commission District 2 race when Spears raised questions on Election Day and reported that some precincts were reporting she received zero votes — including her own precinct. She took photos of the precinct-level results and showed them to Decaturish on May 30. Her supporters, including commissioners Jeff Rader and Ted Terry, began publicly raising questions about what happened.

DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections staff started the process of recounting ballots from all 40 precincts in county commission District 2 on Saturday, May 28. After doing logic and accuracy testing most of the day and seemingly moving forward with counting, the staff suspended the count until the next day.

On Sunday, May 29, elections staff announced a plan to do a hand count of the District 2 commission race after trying and failing to do a machine count.

The decision to move ahead with a hand count on May 29 indicated a problem arose with the logic and accuracy testing that occurred on Saturday.  DeKalb County attorney Shelley Momo on Saturday implied that something was not right with the logic and accuracy tests, but she nor the VRE staff elaborated on what the issue was.

Election workers continued counting ballots on Monday, May 30, and finished counting at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 31. The VRE, however, did not release the results until June 1.

The board met twice on May 31 and decided to delay certification until Friday evening.

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.

VRE originally reported the June 21 runoff was between Marshall Orson and Lauren Alexander. After a week of review, Alexander and Spears will go head-to-head in the runoff on June 21.

DeKalb VRE posted more data on June 3 showing a total of 18,647 votes cast in the District 2 race, which is a difference of 3,198 votes than what was reported on June 1.

“When we were posting the incomplete and unofficial reports there were two databases, and so if you weren’t looking at both databases, you may feel that today there is an increased amount of votes,” Smith said. “But from our Election Day reporting, the numbers that we reported totaled 18,670. The hand count was at 18,647. There really was not an increase in votes. What was displayed, again, was because of the error that redirected some of those votes to the candidates, the different candidates.”

To view the precinct-level data released on June 3, click here.

Here are the results released on June 1:

To see the vote totals by precinct reported on June 1, click here.

Here are the results that were reported on Election Day:

Note – five additional precincts impacted by a redistricting error are reflected on a second report, which is below and should be added with the first set of votes reported on May 24.

A few different factors contributed to the problems with the District 2 race.

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.

Broussard spoke during public comments at the June 3 Elections Board meeting.

“It’s been very troubling for me to see this problem unfold the last week,” Broussard said. “Let me bluntly state that my withdrawal from this race on April 11 should not have inflicted the train wreck that has now happened. People withdraw from races all the time. There should be a way to correct that, considering [VRE] had five weeks to do this.”

He called for the board to redo the District 2 County Commission election.

“Calling it a mere tabulation error, as it was done for several days, does a disservice to the people. It’s a tabulation error that was so severe, apparently your staff could not repeat a machine count like you all had announced last Friday, and you had to abandon it and go to a hand recount, which was so tedious,” Broussard said.

The Secretary of State’s 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. But the Elections Board decided to move forward with the certification in hopes of answering those questions at a later time.

Marshall Orson, who was a candidate in the race, said there continue to be anomalies and inconsistencies in the results.

“Today, the DeKalb Board of Elections chose to certify the results in the DeKalb County Commission District 2 race despite multiple issues and irregularities and an inability to provide any assurances that the ultimate results actually reflect the will of the voters,” Orson told Decaturish. “Throughout the process there has been a complete disregard of legal requirements, with only a casual adherence to the very specific statutory and rule requirements. Much of the process has taken place out of public view and in a way that undermines the commitment to transparency. The reliance on an end result (paper ballots) about which we cannot be certain are correct is a callous disregard of the need to protect the integrity of the electoral system.”

He added the most critical issue is to make sure the electoral system is beyond reproach and called for the GBI to investigate.

“I will forgo my personal opportunity to seek legal relief, for which there are multiple substantive claims, so that the focus is on the system and process,” Orson said. “To this end, I intend to request that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation intervene pursuant to the recent Georgia statute giving them the authority and obligation to investigate election irregularities. While this will not change the outcome for me, this is the only way to get to the truth about this matter. Georgians deserve to know that their elections are run transparently, with integrity and a commitment to accurate outcomes.”

Candidate Lauren Alexander told Decaturish that she reviewed the letter Orson sent to the BRE and believes he raises some significant points on the issues.

“I hope that the Board will take Marshall’s letter under consideration, listen to public input from the voters of DeKalb, consider its options and make a decision that is in the best interest of transparency and fairness,” Alexander said. “I do understand that there are certain legal statues that govern this processes that must be followed, but the integrity of this election and voter confidence in the outcome is most important to me.”

Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story.

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