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Hand count in District 2 race raises questions; DeKalb GOP requests countywide hand recount

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Hand count in District 2 race raises questions; DeKalb GOP requests countywide hand recount

DeKalb County Commission District 2 candidate Marshall Orson attends the recount of the race on Saturday, May 28, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County’s release of hand count totals for the disputed District 2 County Commission race settled some questions but raised new ones.

The chair of the DeKalb County GOP is asking Voter Registration and Elections for a hand count of all races in the May 24 primary. DeKalb VRE is set to certify the results on Friday at 5 p.m. Marshall Orson, who went from being in the June 21 District 2 runoff to finishing in third place after the hand count was released, is continuing to explore his options. If the Elections Board certifies the result of the hand count, the runoff will be between Michelle Long Spears – who initially came in third on Election Night – and Lauren Alexander.

A recent Georgia law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, Senate Bill 441, allows the GBI to investigate voter fraud allegations, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Decaturish asked Orson if he intends to call for a GBI investigation into the District 2 race.

“I am looking at what options exist to have a neutral party look into the issues,” Orson said. “No decisions at this point.”

The hand count reduced the number of votes Orson received from 5,527 on Election Day to 3,928, a difference of roughly 1,600 votes. The VRE did not explain the 1,400 to 1,600 vote reduction for Orson when it released the hand count results. The variable total depends on whether you include counts from three precincts that were in the original count removed in the hand count: Avondale High, Johnson Estates and Woodward.

It’s not clear why those three precincts were removed from the hand count.

Initially, VRE resisted releasing the hand count after it was completed on May 31 at 12:30 a.m., citing concerns about accuracy. VRE released the hand count totals on Wednesday, June 1, following public pressure.

The differences were enough to prompt DeKalb GOP Chair Marci McCarthy to call for a hand recount of all races on the May 24 ballot in the heavily Democratic Dekalb County.

“After reviewing the hand and machine count results for the DeKalb County Commissioner District 2 Race, we will be submitting a letter to formally request a full county-wide hand recount,” McCarthy said to Decaturish.

The DeKalb Democrats have not issued a statement about whether they support a hand recount of all races.

Initially, it appeared the hand count produced 2,810 additional votes that were not recorded on Election Day. But local accountant Hydrick Harden did some sleuthing, and he believes the difference between the two counts is 262 if you remove the three precincts that did not appear in the hand count. Harden lives in District 2 and voted for Spears.

Harden explained how he came up with the 262 vote difference. He said the key is the “blank votes,” or the votes where people did not choose a candidate in the District 2 County Commission race.

Originally, the number of blank votes reported was about 4,600 votes. However, the new hand count lists the number of blank votes as 2,678, he said.

“You have a difference of roughly 1,900 votes that went to a candidate,” he said.

Harden’s analysis includes precincts affected by a redistricting error. That error played a role in the incorrect count reported on Election Day.

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 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.

Harden said the 1,900 vote difference in blank votes is a concern. He thinks the county should do a hand count of some other local races to determine whether the incorrect District 2 results were an anomaly or a systemic error.

“It’s enough that it could swing a couple of races…,” he said. “It’s enough. That’s what worries me.”

He’d also like to know what audit procedures the county used to verify the results, when they were used, and he’d like to know why votes for Broussard were not reported on Election Night.

“That’s an outstanding question,” he said.

To see the spreadsheet he created, click here.

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