By Sarah Wibell
Morgan County is at the center of a statewide election controversy, in which a new subpoena has been served to the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration (BOER) regarding the November 2018 election for Lieutenant Governor. The heated legal battle is between Governor Brian Kemp and the Coalition for Good Governance, revolving around the issue of election security in the State of Georgia and “missing votes” in the Georgia Lieutenant Governor race during the November 2018 Midterm election.
County government was served with subpoena from the Coalition for Good Governance – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on election transparency and verifiability – last Thursday, after the BOER discussed the issue at its monthly regular meeting. A previous subpoena was withdrawn after County Attorney Christian Henry disputed it. The controversy began over an investigation conducted by the Coalition for Good Governance, which found approximately 127,000 fewer votes were recorded in the 2018 Lt. Governor’s contest than experts estimated should have been cast. Morgan County was “missing” 295 votes. “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,” claimed the report. The same racially disparate findings were true of Morgan County as well, with missing votes coming from a predominantly African-American district.
The coalition, which advocates for a paper ballot system to replace Georgia’s current electronic voting machine system, is seeking the court to intervene to get to the bottom of the missing votes.
On Thursday, May 16, the BOER addressed the matter and listened to citizen feedback.
Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats, and others expressed a desire for transparency in the investigation of the election results. During that meeting, Dufort said there was a one in ten thousand probability that voters would fill in the top of the ballots, skip the Lt. Governor’s race, and continue voting on races lower down on the ballots, claiming roughly 300 votes were potentially “missing.”
“My question is … who authorized the county attorney to fight the subpoena rather than comply with the subpoena … and did anyone do a cost analysis for the voters and taxpayers of Morgan County,” Dufort asked the board on Thursday. “What would be the cost to have Jennifer (Doran, elections supervisor) spend some staff hour time organizing the information and handing it over or … Michael (Ghioto, chairperson) calling in an independent expert to do the same investigation? What would be the cost of that versus the cost of paying the attorney to fight it?”
Dufort held a manila folder, displaying it to the board, and claimed, “This represents a good chunk of the documents that Christian has handled and, in my world, paper and attorneys equals dollars. So, I think I feel pretty comfortable telling you that there is, and will continue to be, money being spent on this issue … The subpoena was withdrawn from some timing issues. A new one will be sent electronically; I understand it be, this time, served formally sometime this week. So, the issue is back in play.” Dufort was correct in that the new subpoena was served to the county later that day.
“I think the taxpayers of Morgan County would expect the board to be making decisions that involve policy and money as it relates to our elections … I’m here as a taxpayer and voter of Morgan County talking to Morgan County,” continued Dufort. “I’m frustrated that somebody in Morgan County has decided to represent the interests of the secretary of state without having a local conversation about what represents the interests of Morgan County taxpayers and voters. That’s really my very narrow issue. I’m not standing here as a part of the Coalition for Good Governance. I’m not party to the lawsuit being discussed. Morgan County is not party to the lawsuit being discussed. Morgan County is simply one of 159 counties that conducts elections and could be useful in trying to get to the bottom of why there are missing votes.”
Ghioto responded that transparency is important, noting he is glad that another subpoena has been filed and is willing to resolve any issues. The board members and chairperson also indicated that they had not asked Henry to fight the previous subpoena.
Board Member Helen Butler noted that during last month’s meeting, “(The Board of Elections and Registration) hadn’t received the subpoena, so we couldn’t act on anything, because we didn’t have the actual documentation. So, it wasn’t like we didn’t take action; we didn’t actually have a document to take action on as I recall.”
Dufort received some questions from a couple of citizens wondering how one can say 300 votes are “missing” because of undervoting. William David Moore asserted, “I voted for governor but not Lt. Governor because I didn’t like them or secretary of state because I didn’t like them. To say that their votes are missing because they’re not voted on is ridiculous.” Dufort offered to speak to those interested in the statistics and her viewpoint after the meeting.
“That’s why they issued the subpoena, and that’s what it’s about – it’s about transparency,” Ghioto said. “Just making sure everything that’s done is done the way it’s supposed to be. I understand both points of view, and we appreciate it. We do take that information in. So, thank you very much … Once the judge issues the guidelines (for the subpoena), then we’ll be able to move forward with it.”
The BOER will hold a special-call meeting on Thursday, May 30 at 10 a.m. to discuss the new subpoena. The meeting will be held at the BOER, located at 434 Hancock Street in Madison.