Voting hand

The Saga of The DeKalb County District 2 Commission Election


The News: A hand recount of the District 2 Commission race in DeKalb resulted in a new outcome in the race. The DeKalb County election board met Friday evening to certify the new results.

The Candidates: The candidates involved were Michelle Long Spears, Lauren Alexander and Marshall Orson.

Election Night: As the votes came in on election night, results showed Orson and Alexander heading to a runoff in the three person race.

However, it became clear to the Spears campaign that something was wrong with the electronic vote tally. Spears received zero votes in some precincts, including the one she voted for herself in. This discrepancy was reported to election officials, which is what triggered the hand recount.

The Recount: Georgia’s new voting system produces a paper ballot for every vote cast on a voting machine, allowing hand recounts if there are issues with voting technology or memory cards. Once the paper ballots were counted, the results showed Spears received 6,651 votes, Alexander received 4,737 votes and Orson received 3,928 votes.

What Happened? (Short Answer): The District 2 race originally had 4 candidates in it, but the fourth candidate, Donald Broussard, dropped out of the race. The electronic ballot was corrected to remove Broussard’s name. During early voting, voters reported that the text of a Republican Party ballot question was not appearing correctly on ballots. When that issue was corrected, a ballot containing the withdrawn candidate was used to update the system. This technical error led to the issues with the electronic vote count.

What Happened? (Long Answer): The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office provided a detailed explanation, and for those who want to dig into details, here is that explanation. The only thing added to this explanation are paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.

“Initially, four candidates qualified to run for District 2 Commissioner. After the election project had been built and the equipment had been prepared, one candidate withdrew. That candidate was marked as ‘disabled’ in the Election Management Server, which is proper procedure. Subsequent to that, it was discovered that five precincts in DeKalb were redistricted into County Commission District 2 race, but those precincts had not been updated to reflect that change.

“To remedy that, a new election project was created so that the County Commission District 2 race properly appeared on the ballots for those precincts. ​That new election project was built by Secretary of State’s Center for Election Systems and was configured with 4 candidates within the County Commission District 2 race as had been done in the original project.

“On the first day of early voting, an issue was discovered on the BMDs that the text of one Republican party question was not properly appearing. To remedy this issue, the Secretary of State’s Center for Election Systems updated the election project so that the text properly appeared. However, that update was built us​ing the county maintained copy of the election project where the withdrawn candidate had been placed into the disabled status. In making that update, it caused a discrepancy on Election Day between the BMDs (with the updated project showing three candidates) and the Election Day scanners in the other precincts in the county (that were expecting four candidates in that race).

“The issue was quickly detected by DeKalb County Elections and Registrations after the election during their normal post-election processes, and the Secretary of State’s office has worked with DeKalb to help resolve the issue.”

The Aftermath: Orson said while he is not making legal challenges to the result, he is asking the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the District 2 Commission Race. You may recall that earlier this year, Republican lawmakers voted to allow the GBI to independently investigate elections. Orson wants to invoke that process.

Below is Orson’s statement on the recount and the board’s certification of the election.

“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. There continue to be anomalies and clear inconsistencies. 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.

“With that said, the most critical issue is to ensure that the electoral system is beyond reproach. What has taken place fails to do so. As a result, 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. 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.”

There has been no update on if and when that process will be initiated.

Aftermath Outside DeKalb: The hand recount in DeKalb County has sparked controversy outside of the Commission 2 race and outside of DeKalb County. In Cobb County, supporters of the Vinings cityhood effort have seen the DeKalb recount as a catalyst to challenge the result of the cityhood referendum in Vinings.

For those who don’t remember the Vinings cityhood measure failed, along with cityhood referendums in East Cobb and Lost Mountain.

The Cobb County Board of elections has greed to conduct a hand recount ballots in a Vinings precinct on Monday.

What’s Next?: While we do not yet know the outcome of any potential GBI investigation into the District 2 race or what Monday’s hand recount in Cobb County will show, we do know that the runoff election between Spears and Alexander is set for June 21.

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