By Tia Lynn Ivey
Morgan County remains at the center of a statewide legal battle revolving around the November 2018 election of Lieutenant Governor. Morgan County’s Board of Elections and Registration (BOER) was served a subpoena in May requesting voting data as part of a statewide investigation into “missing votes.”
The subpoena, from the Coalition for Good Governance, – a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on election transparency and verifiability – includes 27 categories of information requested. The BOER decided in an executive session last Thursday to dispute nine of those categories.
“We are going to object to the nonpublic documents that are not open for public disclosure,” said Jennifer Doran, election supervisor for Morgan County. According to Doran, the BOER does not believe it can legally release all of the requested information because it would jeopardize voters’ privacy rights and the security of the county’s election system. Doran said the BOER is willing to comply with requests for polling tapes (printout results from the night of the election from each electronic voting machine), recap sheets, and listings of early voting locations.
“But based on all the information we have gathered, the board decided we are going to object to the documents or records that are not open to public disclosure…that mostly information from the GEMS database along with requests for my username and password. This would give them access to our source code and the structure of database. This is critical election infrastructure, if anyone had access to that code, they would know how to manipulate and or hack the election system in Georgia, It would be basically giving the keys to my office and access to everything.”
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. The coalition is currently suing Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over the investigation. The BOER was served with a subpoena to turn over various voting information and forensic data to coalition as part of the discovery process of the lawsuit.
Over 50 people attended a special-called meeting last Thursday before the BOER retreated into a non-public executive session. Most of the attendees voiced concerns over election security and urged the BOER to comply with the subpoena and to discuss the matter publicly.
The BOER listened to comments from the public, but did not take questions or discuss the issue publicly, despite objections from citizens arguing that an executive session was not legal.
“I am deeply disappointed that the BOER did not live up to their promise of transparency, holding their discussion and decision in executive session,” said Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats, who argued that the BOER did not have legal grounds to move into executive session, stating that in order to meet the requirements of an executive session, the board would need to have the county lawyer present (in person or by phone) and must be addressing a litigation or threat of litigation.
Dufort’s objection was not heeded.
“It’s going to be an executive session because we have already set the agenda today, said Chairman Michael Ghioto.
During the public meeting, attendees a demanded to know why Morgan County would spend taxpayer money fighting a subpoena instead of complying with the investigation to get to the bottom of the voting anomaly that suggests there are 300 missing votes in Morgan County for the Lt. Governor’s race from last November.
“Here we have this 1 in 10,000 chance of an anomaly in our records, and all the subpoena is asking you to do is to turn over some of the records so that forensic experts, people who have an expertise that none of us here in Morgan county have, can look at this,” said Dufort.
Beryl Dixon, Terry Reeves, Carl Scott, and Karl and Linda Woodworth, all spoke in favor of complying with the subpoena.
“Whether or not you believe the evidence, what have you got to lose? What are we afraid of?” said Reeves. “Why prevent a further look when there is evidence, when there are numbers that document what happened?”
“I think all counties had this discrepancy show up, so all counties should participate in lending records so the real answer can be gotten to,” said Karl Woodworth.
George Balbona, a Cobb County resident following the case, urged for compliance, complaining that state officials had blocked voting experts to examine internal memory of voting machines, despite receiving court approval.
“I am sick of hearing republicans say that there is no proof that our elections have ever been meddled with,” said Balbona. “If you never give us permission to look, if you never allow us to look, yeah that’s why there is no evidence of this. But there are 127,000 votes that just disappeared and to say that this is just some normal thing is just misleading and willfully ignorant.”
However, others at the meeting objected to the investigation into the Midterm Election, including Fred Johnson, David Moore, Jim Jones and Richard Simpson
“This thing about this being a one chance in 10,000 came from MIT scientists and MIT scientists can say anything,” said Fred Johnson. “No one has really calculated that and that’s just a number pulled out of the air. I think this whole thing is a phony issue and a form of harassment.”
“To quote Mark Twain, the problem with common sense is that it’s not common,” said Simpson. “A lot of voters, which are Stacey [Abrams] voters. They love Stacey. They came in by the thousands and voted for stacey and left. They didn’t vote down the ballot. I think this whole thing is hoax to try to stir up trouble and I think you democrats ought to declare victory and retire from the field.”
David Moore theorized that voters simply didn’t participate in the Lieutenant Governor race due to lack of knowledge of the candidates.
“I know I have skipped races when I didn’t know about the candidates,” said Moore.
While the BOER is objecting to parts of the subpoena, Doran insists they will comply with the next ruling after the coalition and state official hold a discovery conference on June 10 in order to devise a joint discovery plan.
“This allows for them to determine the appropriate scope of discovery, and allows for a protective order to be in place if any sensitive information or documents are to be produced,’ said Doran.