By Sarah Wibell
After hundreds of votes in Morgan County appeared to go “missing” after the last November election, local citizens are demanding answers–and cooperation with a statewide investigation– from Morgan County election officials.
Last Thursday, the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration heard comments from the public regarding requests for investigating the accuracy of the Direct-Recording Electronic Voting Machines used in the November 2018 general election. Morgan County Attorney Christian Henry purportedly received a letter on April 15 from the Coalition for Good Governance – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on election transparency and verifiability – regarding a subpoena that is expected to request access to electronic data and records, forensic examination of voting machines, and databases. Multiple citizens present called on Morgan County officials to fully cooperate with the subpoena during the meeting on Thursday, April 18.
Jeanne Dufort spoke on behalf of the motivation for an investigation. “In last November’s election, hundreds of votes in Morgan County disappeared, and no one has an explanation for it,” said Dufort. “It strains credibility to believe that hundreds of Morgan County citizens voted for governor, skipped lieutenant governor’s race, and then resumed voting for statewide offices in a normal pattern all the way down through public service commission and beyond.”
According to expert analysis of the 2018 lieutenant governor’s race, there are about 127K missing votes statewide. Spread across most counties, 158 out of 159 counties have this anomaly, and they’re 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 lieutenant governor were lost or potentially never recorded.
“Two hundred and ninety-five votes are the difference between the normal undervotes you would expect in Morgan County in the recent lieutenant governor’s race in Morgan County and the votes recorded. The race at the top of the ticket, generally, gets the most votes, and then a little bit less, a little bit less, a little bit less. That’s a historic pattern. Normally that’s one percent. If you look back to a number of races, you’ll find 0.8 to 1.4 is the maximum range of fewer lieutenant governor votes compared to governor.
“Last November, it was 4 percent statewide and 4.3 percent in Morgan County. The missing votes were primarily seen with voters who voted on election day on the DRE machines and early voting or in person on the DRE machines. The percentage of missing votes in the mail and absentee ballots was 1.7 percent – much, much less. Analysis of statewide results shows no unusual undervote for Hispanic voters, for Asian-American voters, for new voters, for young versus old voters, or in heavily white precincts that voted predominantly democrat. The evidence is clear, the only correlation, the more African-American voters in a precinct, the more missing votes.
“One in ten thousand – those are the odds that this occurrence occurred naturally and not as the result of machine malfunction. The nation’s leading expert in statistically based election auditing (Phillip Stark, professor of statistics and associate dean of mathematical and physical sciences at the University of California, Berkeley) has analyzed the statewide data, and his opinion – and I’m going to quote this – ‘the disparity and undervote rates by voting technology strongly suggests that malfunction, misconfiguration, bugs, hacking, or other error or malfeasance caused some DREs not to record votes in lieutenant governor’s (race).’
“[With] a one in ten thousand chance it occurred naturally, the high probability it was not a natural occurrence; it was a mistake or malfeasance. It’s a shocking development, and Georgians deserve answers. So far, the secretary of state has shown no interest and, in fact, has blocked some efforts to investigate, but today I’m not talking to the secretary of state, I’m talking to you … No one knows exactly what the source of the problem is, but there’s a way to investigate further, and that’s what we’re asking you to do. Complying with this subpoena means that some of the country’s best experts in election security will be able to look for answers – the answers we all want – at no cost to Morgan County. How many times have you heard there’s no evidence of hacking in Georgia’s elections? … Well, guess what, if you don’t look, you can’t say there’s no evidence … So, forensic examination is how evidence is gathered, and unless we do it, it’s a catch-22. That’s why we’re asking you to cooperate with this.
“In the meantime, we also call on you to cease use of these machines. If you have a problem and you can’t explain it, how can you use those machines again? So we ask in upcoming elections – the municipal elections in the fall – we would ask you to use paper ballots for all voters for that election until we get to the bottom of this. Every voter deserves confidence that her vote and every other vote in the voting pool is counted as cast.”
In opposition, Paula Sellers pointed out that none of the DREs are connected to the internet and that under voting means that a particular voter might only care about voting for a couple of races on a ballot without completing the rest of it. Paula Sellers stated, “I just think some of these people are coming in, and they’re straight-minded saying, ‘I’m going to vote this, this, and this, and that’s it.’”
Angelina Bellebuono received applause after her statements.
“I know that (the Board of Elections has) our best interests at heart. I think that you do everything above board, and I feel like the state is asking for information from us. I want to make the appeal as a citizen for you guys to do what is asked. If we are being asked for information, I see no reason we could not provide information, especially if providing information does not cost money,” said Bellebuono. “But beyond that, we’re not doing anything wrong; you’re not doing anything wrong. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. I would like for that to go on record: that we’re not doing anything wrong. And I think that you guys have the ability to provide the documentation to show that. And for whatever has been asked for us with that information, whatever is revealed, is not about you. It’s not about us. It’s not about what’s happening from this board, the poll workers, or what’s being done according to standard. I’m just a taxpayer, but I am concerned, and I’m also concerned regardless of what or who is running. Votes must be counted as cast. Every vote, every voice, matters. Until we can trust the integrity of our system, there will be questions. And how do we encourage young people to be involved if we don’t have a system that we can prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that works. It doesn’t matter about who’s running. It doesn’t matter who’s winning. It only matters – to me – that we can trust that I vote for someone and that vote gets counted as I cast it and that that is trusted every single time.”
The board also discussed the Fiscal Year 2020 budget in which they requested a pay increase for poll workers of an additional $1 an hour more to the $10 an hour for poll workers during training and early voting, $11 an hour for poll workers and assistant poll managers on election day, and $12 an hour for poll managers on election day. The budget goes through a process where County Manager Adam Mestres can either approve or adjust the budget before presenting it to the county commissioners to vote on. Elections Supervisor Jennifer Doran informed the Board of Elections that Mestres denied the pay raise for poll workers: “He said last year poll workers were given a raise. Some of the current employees are making that. Then there are other temporary employees who made way less than that. They’re making $8 an hour already.” Doran reminded the board that the proposed pay raise would create a $2800 increase in their budget.
Board Member Scott Sellers noted that he intends to put his name on the County Commissioners’ agenda for the May 7 meeting to advocate for the pay raise, stating, “I am adamant that our poll workers are not getting paid enough money.”
Other topics covered during the meeting included updates regarding the Georgia Election Officials Association and Voter Registrars Association of Georgia Conference held at the end of March and attended by two staff members and two board members; purchases within budget for new “vote here” and “early voting” signs were approved, and a discussion of how to increase civic involvement of local youths was held.