By Tia Lynn Ivey
In the wake of an election fiasco, Georgia made national news after the June 9 Primary Election resulted in hours-long lines to vote and concerns over how casted ballots were counted by Georgia’s new $120 million voting system. AP News cited Morgan County as one of four Georgia counties where the new Dominion ballot-marking voting machines did not properly count all mail-in absentee votes. The controversy has prompted local voting rights activists to call for a complete audit of Morgan County’s 3,000 absentee ballots.
However, in a 3-to-2 vote last Thursday, The Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration (BOER) narrowly defeated the motion to audit absentee ballots. Members Avery Jackson and Helen Butler voted for the audit to be conducted. Members Dena Lanier and Scott Sellers voted against the audit. Chairman Michael Ghioto broke the tie, voting against the audit.
Jeanne Dufort, a Morgan County Democrat who served on the county’s vote review panel, was not pleased with the decision.
“I am appalled that you have been notified that we have absolute clear evidence that the scanner failed to pick up and count valid votes,” said Dufort after the vote last Thursday. “The vote review panel, consisting of a Republican and a Democrat, were absolutely clear that [the undetected votes] should be counted and you’re not willing to look at the remainder of the ballots to see if the scanner made the same mistake on the remainder of the ballots? This is not a Republican issue and it’s not a Democrat issue.”
Despite the findings of the vote review panel, Ghioto does not currently believe the election results were affected.
“I am very confident of the election’s accuracy,” said Ghioto, who said the reason he voted against the audit was due to time constraints and not enough volunteers to conduct it.
“We had one Democratic volunteer,” said Ghioto, “But we didn’t have a Republican volunteer or an Independent volunteers, and we need both of those to be able to perform the audit.”
But the debate is not quite over. After some backlash on social media and Morgan County being spotlighted in other major news outlets, the BOER has decided to revisit the issue. According to Election Supervisor Jennifer Doran, the BOER will revote on auditing all 3,000 absentee ballots at the next regular meeting, held on Thursday, June 18 at 10 a.m. The public is invited to join via Zoom or by telephone.
“I won’t know until then how we will vote,” said Ghioto.
Dufort, who also joined a lawsuit launched by the Coalition for Good Governance against the state over voting and election security, served as the Democrat on Morgan County’s vote review panel. The panel consists of one democrat (Dufort), one Republican, Stephen Morris, and one Independent, Election Supervisor Jennifer Doran.
The panel first discovered uncounted voters during a review of a small batch of ballots, detecting unregistered votes while inspecting ballot images flagged by the vote-tallying scanner’s software for inconsistencies.
“The batch size was about 5 percent—roughly 150 out of 3,000 mail-in absentee ballots received in Morgan County,” said Dufort.
According to Dufort, the panel discovered five or six ballots with races the but machines counted some races as “unvoted” when it was obvious there was a voting mark. Dufort says the software did not flag these five or six ballots as suspect, but the panel caught them.
“We were all shocked to see the contest marked as “unvoted,” said Dufort. “We found more in that batch. Over the next 24 hours, we confirmed four other counties found votes that were not counted, also by accident during the vote review process. It’s important to understand, the tabulation software was reporting these contests as unvoted and was so certain about that conclusion that it did not flag the ballot for human review.”
Dufort told the BOER she was “appalled” by the vote to deny an audit last Thursday.
“I believe that the Morgan County Board of Election must ask the bi-partisan ballot review panel to review the remaining 2,800 ballots. The election cannot be certified until we know that every vote has been counted as cast. I believe that all votes cast in Georgia MUST be reviewed before certification,” said Dufort.
But Morgan County election officials do not necessarily believe an audit is warranted.
“I believe that those votes that were not counted were outliers and it was not a widespread problem,” said Doran, who noted the software did flag those particular ballots as a whole where the panel found votes uncounted in certain races.
Doran believes the problem is a rare occurrence and was caused by “ambiguous or stray” voting marks on the ballot.
“We saw so few of these,” said Doran. “There were only some races where votes were not counted because of stray or ambiguous marks, not entire ballots. If a voter put a check mark or X but didn’t put it near the oval slot on the ballot, those were the ones the software kicked back.”
Doran noted that the five or six ballots the review panel caught were counted with the review panel voting unanimously to do so.
“We voted to count those because we could clearly determine the voter’s intent,” said Doran.
The BOER will reexamine whether or not to conduct on audit on the remaining unreviewed mail-in absentee ballots this Thursday, June 18 at 10 a.m. Visit the Morgan County website: morgancountyga.gov or call the BOER office to find out how to virtually attend the public meeting. Call: 706-343-6311.