Cobb elections board certifies primary results in 3-1 vote

Jun. 1—MARIETTA — The Cobb County Board of Elections voted 3-1 to certify the results of the May 24 election Tuesday afternoon. Board member Pat Gartland voted against certification due to concerns he had about irregularities.

The fifth member, board Chair Tori Silas, was absent from the meeting.

Cityhood snafu

Last week's election, which included primaries for governor and other statewide offices, state legislative primaries, three cityhood referendums, and more, saw issues with redistricting, ballot scanners jamming, and other issues, elections staff said.

Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler outlined the issues with the election during her report to the board.

The MDJ previously reported that, per Eveler's analysis, up to 157 ballots were affected by an encoding error on the first day of early voting. The issue led to some voters receiving ballots that were missing an election they were eligible to vote in, or included an election they were ineligible to vote in.

Two Vinings cityhood supporters — Jimmy Eastham and Taryn Bowman — asked the board to not certify the election results Tuesday, given the election's close margin.

"I do not allege any fraud in the way people voted," Eastham said. "...We got lots of irregularities, it is significant."

Eveler said that redistricting issues led to some streets being incorrectly included or excluded in the Vinings vote. Eveler estimated the issue affected 90 voters — Eastham estimated 131 voters were impacted.

"Of course, we apologize for that. But again, to talk about the pressures of redistricting immediately before this, unfortunately, it was a very tight timeframe. And there wasn't enough time to correct these errors," Eveler said.

Vinings was the closest cityhood referendum, with a margin of 313 votes.

"It was such a small margin of 313 votes, with so many irregularities that we're just now uncovering," Bowman said. "We would like to see due diligence done. And we would like to see a full audit of this of the Vinings cityhood election, because there's just too much for such a small area to certify this vote."

Other issues

On Election Day, there was an unusually high instance of ballot scanners jamming, Eveler said. Eveler attributed the jamming issue to different types of ballots that were printed on different paper sizes.

In some cases, scanners jammed repeatedly and had to be restarted. At four precincts, the scanned ballots did not equal the number of ballots that were returned, which Eveler believes was caused by the jamming. At those precincts, staff had to rescan all of the ballots the day after the election to correct results.

Also, in instances where scanners were opened in order to clear jams, staff were supposed to seal those ballots with a separate seal and record the issue. Citizens alleged during public comment that in some cases, the scanners were not properly resealed.

"It makes me crazy to hear that they were not (resealed)," Eveler said with concern.

There were also issues with memory cards, Eveler said.

In one instance, a memory card from an early voting location did not upload on election night. The card was incorrectly assigned to the wrong location, Eveler said. On the day after the election, the ballots from that memory card had to be rescanned.

Scanning issues also led to some premature results being seen. Eveler explained that at the end of each early voting day, poll workers are supposed to shut down scanners, but not "close" the election when doing so. The following day, the election is still "open" when the scanners are booted up.

In a few cases, Eveler said, poll workers closed the election on individual scanners when shutting down for the day. This caused tapes of results to be printed out prematurely, which has the potential to reveal partial results before the election ends.

Eveler said in those cases, the tapes were put in a sealed envelope and taken directly to the main office.

"Who knows how many people had those advanced results before the day of elections," Cobb GOP Chair Salleigh Grubbs said. "And I think you owe us an explanation for that."

An extensive public comment period saw many local Republican activists speak out about irregularities. As the board deliberated, the meeting grew raucous and saw repeated instances of heckling. Board members and board attorney Daniel White requested decorum on several occasions.

'This is a step in the process'

When it came time to certify, Gartland, the Cobb GOP's appointee to the board, made a motion to not certify the election, but it failed for lack of a second.

Board member Jessica Brooks said state law requires the board to certify the election no later than 5 p.m. the Monday after the election (in this case, the meeting was delayed until Tuesday because of Memorial Day).

White added that certifying the election triggers the process for people to file court challenges, if they believe the election is invalid.

"Your job today is to certify the results, plus the corrections that have been made. And then there is a process, this isn't the end of the process. This is a step in the process. And if people think there are errors that put the results in doubt, there's an entire code section that they can follow to correct that," White said.

Board member Steve Bruning made a motion to certify the election results, which passed 3-1.

"I think all of us on the board, and Janine, are disappointed that we had these problems," Bruning said. "We don't want to have any problems in the election. And we regret the programming problems, the glitches, the diverter tray problems."

Bruning echoed comments made by Eveler and other board members that the late state legislative redistricting made for a compressed timeline for elections staff to prepare for the election. Election workers had unsuccessfully lobbied the state to push back the primary date in order to have more time.

Bruning also said Georgia's election system was "just too complicated."

"There are too many things that can happen along the way, too many steps that are required," Bruning said. "And that is a problem with the system that we have. And we have no choice but to use the system."