4,500 votes cast in first two days of Cobb early voting

·4 min read

May 5—Approximately 4,500 votes were cast in the first two days of early voting for the May 24 election, according to figures posted by Cobb County elections Wednesday.

The total vote count for those two days was 4,565 — 1,995 votes were cast Monday and 2,570 were cast Tuesday.

Cobb has also issued 302 absentee ballots, 32 of which have been returned.

Of the ballots cast, 2,849 were Republican primary ballots, 1,650 were Democratic primary ballots and 66 were nonpartisan ballots.

There are three weeks of early voting for the election, which includes primary races for the November general elections, nonpartisan general elections and cityhood referendums.

An encoding issue led to some voters receiving and casting incomplete ballots on Monday, according to Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler. Some ballots that incorrectly left off certain elections, including cityhood referendums, for voters who should have had those elections on their ballots. Eveler told the MDJ the issue was limited to Monday and resolved by late morning.

Cobb Elections is working to get a rough number estimating how many votes were cast Monday before the issue was flagged and resolved.

"I will have to talk to my Board first about the numbers," Eveler said. "They don't need to read it in the paper before they hear it from me."

As to whether the issues on Monday could compromise election results, Eveler said she couldn't say.

"I guess that would be up to a court. Somebody would have to challenge the election and the judge would have to decide that," Eveler said.

The issue was identified when voters noticed that a cityhood question was missing from their ballot, even though they lived in one of the proposed cities. People who noticed the issue before casting their ballot were able to get a corrected ballot, Eveler said. But for those who had already cast their ballot, it was too late.

The East Cobb Cityhood group and the anti-cityhood East Cobb Alliance sent out emails to supporters urging them to read over their ballots for any potential issues before voting.

"We're absolutely aware of it, we are closely monitoring it," said Craig Chapin of the East Cobb Cityhood group. "...We are concerned at the, really, unpreparedness of the election board for this, and are continuing to monitor and gather feedback from the community. Specifically, we're looking for people that have had issues."

Chapin added that his group is hoping to get more information about the extent of the ballot issue.

Dora Locklear, a prominent opponent of Lost Mountain cityhood, told the MDJ that she wasn't too concerned about the ballot issue, since it seemed to be resolved promptly.

"I'm not worried that there were people whose vote didn't count. ... I think we always have those kinds of concerns at the back of our mind. But I feel confident in the poll workers, and the process, and that we'll come out on top," Locklear said.

Eveler said the issue originated due to the state not updating the database on the tablets that election workers use to encode the cards that voters receive and insert into voting machines.

The state legislature's delayed completion of redistricting was the root cause of the issue, Eveler added, which left her office scrambling to ensure the right voters voted in the right elections.

"The redistricting really put us way behind. We were trying to bring this to the attention of the legislature early this year ... The time allowed to do all that before this primary was not enough. And we did get it all done, but we didn't have time to do a lot of the quality assurance checking that we would have normally done if we had time," Eveler said. "So, we didn't find these errors until later in the process."

While it was cityhood referendums that voters noticed to be missing, Eveler said it may have affected other elections, such as legislative races.

"I think that's going to be a significant issue," said Cobb GOP Chair Salleigh Grubbs. "I'm looking at it closely with counsel ... I am not pro or con on cityhoods, but ... in that their opportunity to vote for their candidate or for whatever referendum, I want to be sure their (voters') rights are protected."

Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Cobb Democratic Committee, said the issues were unsurprising, given the short timeline between redistricting, the cityhood referendums being signed into law, and this election. Elections officials from around the state asked legislators during the session for more time to implement all the changes, but were rebuffed.

"We have the state redistricting, and then we go into local redistricting, and then we overlay the cityhood maps on top of that ... They do their best, and we have a very competent elections department here, Janine does an excellent job. But you could see the writing on the wall, so lo and behold, mistakes were made," Bettadapur said.

The margin of victory in the elections will likely determine whether there are credible challenges to the results, Bettadapur said. It all depends on, "if those ballots cast would have made any difference at all in the outcomes," she said.