By Tia Lynn Ivey
The results are in! After an historic delay in the vote count after Tuesday’s primary election, Morgan County election officials scrambled to tabulate ballots late into Tuesday evening through all day Wednesday. A “perfect storm” of challenges hit Morgan County’s election process, including new voting machines, a shortage of poll workers due to the coronavirus pandemic, thunderstorms that wiped out power the day of the election, and an unprecedented number of absentee ballots to process.
Despite the delay in results, the winners of local races were announced late in the afternoon on Wednesday June 10.
According to the results, Bill Kurtz, a Republican, narrowly surpassed competitor Grant Catterton, a Republican, winning the County Commissioner District 5 Seat to replace retiring Commissioner Ron Milton. Sheriff Robert Markley won his reelection bid against Kenny Stewart, both Republican. Wendy Coe overtook competitor Sherree Moon Evans to become the Republican candidate for Morgan County Tax Commissioner. She will face off against Democratic Candidate Shelia Terrell Sanders in November.
Here is the breakdown for these races and others below.
Republican Bill Kurtz earned 54.71 percent of the vote, or 540 ballots, while competitor Grant Catterton, a Republican earned 45.29 percent of the vote, or 447 ballots. Incumbent Sheriff Robert Markley, earned 78.78 percent of the vote, or 3,691 votes while challenger Kenny Stewart, earned 21.22 percent of the vote, or 994 ballots. Republican Wendy Coe earned 75.44 percent of the vote, or 3,406 ballots, while competitor Sheree Moon Evans garnered 24.56 percent of the vote, or 1,109 ballots. Coe will run against the Democratic nominee for County Tax Commissioner, Shelia Terrell Sanders, who earned 1,483 votes during Tuesday’s primary election.
In the race for the District 3 Seat on Morgan County’s Board of Education, Republican Brad Hawk received 868 votes (100 percent or Republican votes cast) and Democrat Ann Ballard received 236 votes (100 percent of the Democratic vote cast).
The results for the unopposed races are also in. Republican Incumbent Ben Riden Jr. for the County Commissioner District 3 Seat earned 885 votes (100 percent of the Republican vote). Republican Incumbent Philipp von Hanstein for the County Commissioner District 4 seat earned 867 votes (100 percent of the Republican votes cast).
Democratic Incumbent Cheryl Bland for the District 1 Board of Education Seat earned 533 votes (100 percent of the Democratic vote cast.
Newcoming Republican Joe Slaughter, running for the District 2 Seat of the Board of Education earned 957 votes, (100 percent of the Republican vote).
Nonpartisan Incumbent Charles Merritt, running for reelection for probate judge, earned 5,691 votes. Nonpartisan Incumbent Connie Holt, running for reelection for magistrate judge, earned 5,590 votes.
Republican Incumbent Adam Carter, running for reelection for county coroner, received 4,338 votes.
Republican Incumbent Jody MIlford Higdon, running for reelection for Clerk of Superior Court, earned 4,421 votes.
In regional races, Morgan County voters went for the following candidates.
In the District Attorney primary race in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, Morgan County voters cast 3,948 votes for Republican T. Wright Barksdale, which amounts to 91. 92 percent of the ballots cast. Competitor Republican Carl Cansino earned just 8.08 percent of the vote with 347 ballots cast from Morgan County.
To see how Morgan County voted in the other federal and state primary races: visit:https://results.enr.clarityelections.com/GA/Morgan/103718/web.247524/#/summary.
According to Jennifer Doran, Morgan County’s election supervisor, there are 25-30 damaged ballots and two provisional ballots that will be reviewed on Thursday, June 11. Those ballots will change the number of votes for various races, but will not affect the outcome.
According to Doran, the delay in voting results mostly came down the unprecedented amount of absentee ballots used in this election and those ballots’ stubs being removed incorrectly, causing the scanner to jam repeatedly.
“The primary problem was just the sheer volume of absentee ballots used this election due to concern over in-person voting because of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Doran.
Doran said in previous elections, it took less than an hour to prepare all submitted absentee ballots to be tabulated.
“This time, it took us five-plus hours just to open the inside and outside envelopes and prepare the ballots to be ready to scan,” said Doran.
On top of that, many of the ballots stubs were torn off incorrectly, causing Morgan County sole scanner to jam repeatedly.
“When the state mailed out absentee ballots, they included a stub at the top of the ballot with direction on wear to tear off the stub. But most people did not tear it off, or did not tear it off correctly,” explained Doran.
Morgan County’s challenges pale in comparison to the voting catastrophe that happened in larger cities across the State of Georgia, resulting in long lines to vote Tuesday. The problems were so severe and widespread that the State is launching an investigation into it. Voting activists, who warned of such difficulties and objected to Georgia’s new voting system, are worried about how the General Election in November will be conducted. Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats and one of the Georgian’s who filed suit against the state of Georgia over voting concerns, expressed her reaction to Tuesday’s election.
“Holding elections under pandemic conditions is hard,” said Dufort. “The new system demands resources that were scarce, especially poll workers. Georgians now see why the expensive system was rejected by Texas and Philadelphia – unreliable tablets, printers and scanners caused problems in every Morgan County polling place.I commend Jennifer Doran, her staff, and all of our poll workers for doing their best. The biggest counties – those with hundreds of thousands of voters – showed the systems flaws – it takes more time to cast a ballot, and more workers to handle the equipment. Throw in combined precincts and social distancing, and the system simply did not have the capacity for the turnout in many polling places.”
Dufort lamented the state’s handling of elections.
“Sadly, the Secretary of State failed to prepare counties in how to use the emergency paper ballot rule. They had ballots on hand for 10 percent of voters to use in case the equipment failed or wait times exceeded 30 minutes. Most went unused, while voters waited hours,” said Dufort.
Doran is hoping that this problem does not happen again during the General Election this November, but acknowledges that it could.
“We are hoping that our office can send out the absentee ballot request for the upcoming election, because when we sent them out, we tear off the stub for voters before we send them. That should solve that problem. Or if the state would tear off the stubs before sending out the absentee ballots, that would solve that, too,” said Doran.
Doran acknowledged that if a second wave of the coronavirus hits in the fall, as some medical experts are predicting, then the general election could face the same shortage of poll workers and unprecedented numbers of absentee ballots to count.
“We are hoping that doesn’t happen, but it could,” said Doran, who noted Morgan County only had 23 poll workers when they needed 38 during the primary election on Tuesday.
“There were a lot of challenges that we can learn from during this election that we hope don’t happen in the future,” said Doran. “Even though delayed, I am confident that the results are accurate and trustworthy.”