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DeKalb Elections office identified ballot shift as error in DeKalb commission District 2 election

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DeKalb Elections office identified ballot shift as error in DeKalb commission District 2 election

A voter shows their sticker and stylus after casting a ballot at the Decatur Recreation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Election Day. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA  — The DeKalb County Registration and Elections Department has identified a ballot shift as the source of error in the county commission District 2 race, according to a report shared with the Elections Board during its meeting on July 14.

DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections conducted a hand count in May and the DeKalb Board of Elections delayed the certification of the May 24 primary until June 3 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 the hand count, Orson’s vote totals decreased and Spears’ vote totals increased. Alexander and Spears were on the ballot for the June 21 runoff. Spears won the runoff.

An initial review showed the issue was isolated to the District 2 race and was likely due to Don Broussard withdrawing from the election.

“A comparison of the results demonstrated that the vote totals displayed incorrectly, making it appear as if candidate Michelle Long Spears received zero votes in all but four precincts,” the report presented at the July 14 BRE meeting states. “A hand count of the District 2 race was held on May 29-30 to obtain an accurate tabulation of ballots cast and the results of that count were certified instead of the machine count.”

To view the full report, click here. It begins on page 11 of the agenda packet.

The Elections Board certified the results of the election on June 3 and certified the runoff election results on June 27. Spears won the Democratic primary for the DeKalb County Commission District 2 seat, meaning she will replace outgoing Commissioner Jeff Rader in January.

“I just want to reiterate that the security, integrity and accuracy of our elections are our top priority here at DeKalb BRE and the process we implemented to address the challenges regarding the commission District 2 race yielded an outcome that I can stand behind, we all can stand behind,” DeKalb Elections Director Keisha Smith said.

At the June 3 Elections Board meeting, Smith said the votes for the primary election had 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 previously 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.”

DeKalb VRE worked with the Secretary of State’s office and its Center for Election Systems to isolate the issues in the District 2 race and change the voting configuration.

“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 previously 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.”

A table in the report shows the differences between the machine count that took place on May 24 and the hand count that occurred on May 29-30. Photo courtesy of DeKalb VRE.

According to the report discussed at today’s meeting, there were four configurations used at the District 2 voting precincts on Election Day.

The equipment was configured correctly at four precincts.

The touchscreens at four precincts allowed voters to vote for Broussard, but those votes were counted as blank when the memory cards were uploaded to the central server. Those votes were considered blank because Broussard dropped out of the race.

“At twenty-nine precincts, the votes below Broussard were ‘shifted upward:’ a vote for Spears was recorded as a vote for Orson, and a vote for Orson was recorded as a vote for Broussard,” the report says. “Then, when the memory cards were uploaded, the Orson votes marked as Broussard were counted as blank.”

At some precincts, not all the votes were shifted.

“At three precincts, some of the votes were shifted and some were not: the Scott and Shamrock precincts each had two scanners, one which was correctly configured and one which was not,” according to the report. “At Lakeside, a technical problem required some of the ballots to be brought back and scanned at the office. The ballots scanned at the polling place were shifted, and the ballots scanned at the office were not.”

DeKalb VRE expected the votes for Orson and Spears, and blank votes to change between the two counts since most of the Election Day votes for Spears were counted for Orson, and most Orson votes were counted as blank.

“We do not expect the Times Cast—the total number of ballots cast in the race—to change,” the report states. “Nor do we expect Alexander’s totals to change because her name appeared above Broussard on the ballot and therefore her votes were not shifted. Advance Voting and Absentee should also not be affected.”

No other errors were identified in the report.

“Although no hand count is perfect, after comparing the two counts, the certified hand count appears to be more than accurate enough to determine the outcome of the Commission District 2 race,” the report says. “There was a large error introduced into the machine count by the ballot shift; but we do not see any evidence of other sources of error.”

In other business, Smith also gave the Elections Board an update on the mid-year budget. At the March Elections Board meeting, there were some line items with a negative balance in the budget, and Smith is working with the VRE’s budget analysts to address those items.

“I’ve been informed that this is part of the mid-year budget,” Smith said at the July 14 meeting. “The corrections will be to move those funds to the line item where that budget was allocated, and so it just hasn’t been done yet, but it is in the works.”

DeKalb VRE additionally requested $4 million from the county to help bring the staffing levels to scale, fund consultant service, along with other items like content and learning management systems. Space was part of that request as well.

“We are in discussions with the administration about a temporary location for some of our operations in the fall as well as longer term needs for space,” Smith said. “Those things are still being worked out. The entire mid-year process for the county is on hold right now, but I’m expecting to hear back from the administration regarding our next steps in this process. As of right now, our budget analyst is reporting that we are fiscally sound. There are no red flags.”

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