By Tia Lynn Ivey
A new report analyzing Georgia ballots cast in the 2018 Midterm elections claims that 127,000 votes are missing statewide—with a disproportionate amount missing among African-American voters. Morgan County is no exception, with a total of 295 missing votes, according to the report issued by the Coalition for Good Governance last week.
“Morgan County reflects consistent spike in machine vote drop-off for Lt. Governor” with the “largest drop-off in the precinct with high percentage of African-American voters.”
The controversy revolves around the statewide race for Lt. Governor, in which the phenomenon known as “undervoting” is under scrutiny due to unprecedented margins. Undervoting is when election races appearing lower on the ballot are left unmarked while election races on the top of the ballot are marked.
Local election advocates are pressuring state and local leaders to adopt a hand-marked paper ballot system, to replace the current electronic DRE machine system, to ensure election accuracy and security. Paper ballot advocates argue that a paper ballot system would leave behind a paper trail to recount votes when such discrepancies emerge.
Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats and election security advocate, hopes local leadership will be proactive in future elections to ensure all votes are counted properly.
“According to expert analysis of the 2018 Lt. Governors race, the 127,000 ‘missing votes” are spread across most counties, and appear concentrated in precincts with the highest number of African American voters. In Morgan County, that’s the Rec Center, where 8 percent of the votes for Lt Governor were lost,” said Dufort.
295 votes are the difference between the normal undervote you would expect in Morgan County in the recent Lt Governors race, and the votes recorded. In a multi candidate election, the race at the top of the ticket (Governor in Nov 2016) generally gets the most votes, and then vote totals gradually decline as you go down ballot. Historically, the undervote for Lt Governor is about 1 percent , but last November it was 4 percent statewide.
According to the report, “Approximately 127,000 fewer votes were recorded in the 2018 Lt. Governor’s contest than experts estimate should have been cast. Statistical analyses and experts’ reports expose a dramatically increased number of missing votes (undervotes or drop-off in votes compared to the top-of-the-ballot contest) for the Lt. Governor’s contest in primarily African American neighborhood precincts.”
Jennifer Doran, Morgan County Election Supervisor, has received a copy of the report and has forwarded it to the members of the Morgan Board of Elections and Registration (BOER) to review.
“I am not sure whether or not the board will act on this information,” said Doran. “These numbers are suspicious to some because although undervoting happens, where voters skip a race, this instance is disproportionately high for this particular race,” explained Doran.
However, she noted that the missing votes in Morgan County are comparatively small.
“I would not characterize the number here in Morgan County as disproportionately high,” said Doran. “The percentage seems off, but when you have such a small number of votes, any small drop in the votes can change the percentage significantly.”
While there is an ongoing investigation into the matter to determine the cause of disparity between the race for Lt. Governor and the other races on the ballot, The Coalition for Good Governance is advocating for more security measures to be enacted to protect election accuracy, including a switch to a paper ballot system.
“Electronic voting systems must be immediately abandoned and paper ballots adopted so that no future elections are conducted on Georgia’s unauditable machines,” said Marilyn Marks, Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance. “Governor Kemp, Secretary Raffensperger, and legislative leaders must abandon their plan to adopt a new ballot-marking-device electronic voting system that, like the current system, is unauditable and vulnerable to problems of the type experienced in November’s election.”
“Voting machine defects and mis-programming are the likely culprits responsible for the significant number of missing votes. Some voters reported touchscreen machines that did not properly display the Lt. Governor’s contest, and others reported machine screen malfunction and ‘vote flipping’ when they attempted to vote,” added Marks.
Marks went on to explain the findings of the report.
“The extreme drop-off in votes in the Lt. Governor’s contest when compared to the Governor’s contest is significantly out of line with historic patterns and does not appear in any other 2018 statewide contest, including those contests that were much further “down ballot” than the Lt. Governor’s race. The drop-off indicates that 63,718 fewer votes were recorded for Lt. Governor than for the Commissioner of Agriculture, the statewide contest with the second-lowest participation rate,” said Marks. “The extreme pattern of missing Lt. Governor’s contest votes only occurred in votes cast on the touchscreen machines. The larger-than-average number of undervotes did not occur in votes cast on paper ballots. Mail-in ballot voters voted down the ballot in typical historical voting patterns.”
Marks highlighted how the missing votes are concentrated in predominantly African-American communities.
“The disproportionate impact on African American voters is a troubling development”, said Marks.. “We call on Governor Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to quit obstructing our efforts to get to the bottom of the unprecedented undervote.”
Dufort believes State leadership will have to act to change Georgia’s voting system as a whole and that local election leaders can only cooperate with ongoing investigations to gain a better understanding of the possible causes for these disproportionate missing votes and provide paper ballots in future elections for local voters.
“We have one of the best run election offices I have ever encountered while doing this work,” said Dufort. “I think there is nothing that we could have done in our practices and processes to have any different outcomes here, but to keep face with the voters of Morgan County, now that this problem has been confirmed, our leaders owe it to the voters of Morgan County to vote on hand-marked paper ballots in every election until this mystery is solved,” said Dufort. “Everybody should want to have answers. I think the Morgan County leadership teams, the county commissioners and BOER, I would hope they would have an intense curiosity about this… I can’t help but think if they had let everyone vote on paper ballots like we asked them to, we would have fewer missing votes. But it’s never too late to do the right thing moving forward.”