Premature release of early voting totals in Albany municipal election under state investigation

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Nov. 3—ALBANY — The Georgia Secretary of State's office confirmed on Wednesday that it is investigating reports of early voting totals for three Albany municipal races being released prior to the close of Tuesday's election.

The vote totals were spotted on Tuesday by at least two reporters who were covering the races for the Albany City Commission in Wards II, III and V.

In one instance, Black Voters Matter representative Kenneth Florence showed the totals for the Ward V race to a Herald reporter at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The totals on the phone screen showed incumbent Commissioner Bob Langstaff with 271 votes, Colette Jenkins with 256 and RyShari Burley with 15. Those correspond with the totals for early voting in the race, which was won by Langstaff.

"Yes, we are investigating," said Walter Jones, communications manager for voter education in the Secretary of State's office. "We had gotten word of it during the day yesterday (Tuesday), which allowed us to send an investigator to the site."

Florence, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Dougherty County School Board, told a reporter the results were available on the county's Board of Registration and Elections website.

On Wednesday, Dougherty Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson disputed the assertion that votes were available on that website.

"The Board of Elections doesn't have a website," she said.

Nickerson said she could not comment further on the investigation other than confirming that a report of the allegations about individuals having numbers from the early voting period was made to the Secretary of State. She also said she could not say when early votes were counted for the election.

"That's all part of the investigation," he said.

Jones said a television reporter who called the office reported seeing a tape of totals from City Commission races on Tuesday. If the investigation indicates that a violation occurred, the case could be presented to the State Election Board, which meets several times a year, to determine what, if any, action should be taken, up to referral to the district attorney for a criminal case.

In a case sheet provided, the office identifies the nature of the investigation as "Elections-Tabulation/Reporting Problems."

Georgia's legal code states that it is unlawful to disclose to another person or receive any results of vote tabulation of absentee ballots prior to the close of polls.

On Wednesday, Florence said he received the vote tallies on his phone from a person he does not know.

"I have no idea who it is," he said. "I had no idea. I don't know her at all."

Florence said he found out that sharing the information was illegal when he received a call from a candidate in the Ward II race.

"I talked to a guy yesterday" at the Secretary of State's office, and I am cooperating "100 percent," with the investigation, he said. "I shared the information. I just hate this. I had no idea."

In the election, incumbent Ward V Commissioner Langstaff was re-elected to another four-year term, earning 2,038 votes, or 56.62 percent of ballots cast. Jenkins finished with 1,154 votes and Burley received 56 votes.

In the Ward II race, Jalen Johnson won in his bid to replace incumbent Commissioner Matt Fuller, who did not seek re-election, garnering 903 votes, or 53.71 percent of the votes cast. Former commission member Bobby Coleman finished in second place with 260 votes, and Adam Inyang collected 158 votes.

In Ward III there will be a runoff election on Nov. 30 between incumbent Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, whose 297 votes placed her in second place behind Vilnis Gaines, who finished with 435 votes. Daa'iyah Salaam received 279 votes in the race.

Turnout for the election was low, with 12.35 percent of registered voters turning out in Ward II, 13.28 percent in Ward III and 22.07 percent in Ward V.

"The election was, I think it was good," Nickerson said. "We had a good day. The turnout was rather low, unfortunately."

All eligible Ward III voters, even those who did not cast ballots on Tuesday, are eligible to vote in the runoff contest, but there will be no open registration for those who are not currently registered ahead of the election.