Jun 6, 2022 - Politics

"Perfect storm" of issues led to recount in Dekalb County

Illustration of a ballot filled in to create a question mark
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

In the Georgia primary elections, the race for DeKalb County Commission's District 2 seat turned out to be the most drawn-out, thanks to a "perfect storm" of issues.

What happened: The initial preliminary results didn't accurately reflect the top vote-getters in the race. On Friday — after a hand recount — the county ultimately certified election results that put two different candidates into the runoff than initially projected.

  • A condensed time frame caused by redistricting delays, a candidate dropping out of the race, and some human error led to inaccurate vote tallies.

Why it matters: While some have argued that the story is an example of voting machine-based fraud, or evidence of larger issues with the elections process, county and state elections officials say this is not the case.

  • In a Friday statement the Secretary of State's office said the issue "should have been caught by earlier checks in the process, but it was not. However, it was caught as soon as election returns started to come in. In fact, it was glaringly obvious. This is a sign that the system of multiple checks and balances works."

Catch up quick: When early results appeared to show two of her opponents headed for a runoff, Michelle Long Spears and her staff immediately began drawing attention to the fact that all but seven precincts showed no Election Day votes for her, including her own.

  • DeKalb launched a hand recount over Memorial Day weekend and found there were in fact mistakes, and Spears had qualified for the runoff, along with Lauren Alexander.

Zoom out: Gabriel Sterling, COO of the Secretary of State's office, tells Axios the situation was a series of human errors compounded by a tight timeline after delayed redistricting data. But never was there a chance it would have been missed, he said.

  • "The system is designed to catch these things because of the most fallible part of the whole thing, which is the human being," he said.

Details: After the pandemic delayed the Census, counties across Georgia had much less time to reconcile new district lines with voter files. DeKalb was the last county to finalize its new maps, and so just before early voting, election workers scrambled to adjust several precincts which were in the wrong district.

  • Plus, one of four candidates dropped out of the race at the last minute.
  • Ultimately, while the voting machines and the scanners that tabulate votes worked properly on their own, some scanners were not properly updated to match the voting machines, Sterling said.
  • Therefore, in some precincts, the scanners did not register votes for the fourth candidate: Spears.

The bottom line: DeKalb Elections Director Keisha Smith called it a "perfect storm," but vouched unequivocally for the accuracy of the results after the hand recount. She told the DeKalb elections board Friday the office also conducted "spot checks" of several other races to ensure there were no further issues.

The big picture: "Given the time constraints and the stresses, everyone was doing the best they could under very trying circumstances," Sterling said.

What's next: The Secretary of State's office is investigating and preparing an after-action report, which will then be forwarded to the State Election Board for further review. But the office "commended" the county for its handling of the issues.

  • DeKalb County Elections board members assured the public Friday they would continue to investigate all errors that led to the issue to make sure they would be fixed before November.
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