No vote recount, board says

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

With the national spotlight on Georgia’s election debacle in June, some Georgia counties are opting to recount votes after discovering valid ballots cast were left uncounted, but Morgan County will not be one of them.

Despite recount requests from Morgan County officials and election volunteers, the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration (BOER), for the second time, narrowly voted against a recount in order to ensure all votes were counted accurately. During the June 18 BOER meeting, in a 3-to-2 vote, the motion to recount Morgan County votes was defeated. Members Avery Jackson and Helen Butler voted for the recount to be conducted. Members Dena Lanier and Scott Sellers voted against it. Chairman Michael Ghioto broke the tie, voting against the recount. 

Before the vote, Member Helen Butler strongly advocated for a vote recount, due to Morgan County’s non-partisan vote review panel discovering several clearly marked ballots uncounted by the new voting machines, which are part of Georgia’s new statewide  $120 million Dominion Ballot Marking Device (BMD) system.  Butler pointed out that a neighboring county, Oconee County, also detected uncounted votes and is conducting a recount. 

“Oconee County is one of five counties like Morgan County that discovered, in races that were selected by the voters, votes that should have been counted but were not counted because the scanner is not calibrated so that it would pick those marks up,” explained Butler. “We as board members have a duty to voters to have fair, accurate and transparent elections. By allowing votes not to be counted that truly should have been counted, as indicated by the Georgia Secretary of State, this is the responsibility of the boards to fix. To make sure the votes are counted accurately and to have an accurate count, you must have all votes counted. Therefore, I still believe we have an obligation that all votes for all races are counted properly that can be determined as accurate votes.”

Jeanne Dufort, a Morgan County Democrat who served as the Democratic representative on the county’s vote review panel, also pointed out that Athens-Clarke County decided to conduct a recount after finding an alarming number of uncounted votes. 

“Out of the 76 ballots they were allowed to look at, they determined 35 votes were uncounted, which is a crazy rate,” said Dufort. “Your decision to certify an election when you have absolute knowledge that in Morgan County, out of a small sample, that there were uncounted votes and in other counties…they found an even higher rate of uncounted votes, it is just irresponsible. You cannot honestly say that this is a truthful accounting of all the votes.”

Butler urged her fellow board members to follow Oconee and Clarke counties’ example. 

“I believe Morgan County needs to do the same,” said Butler. “As a board of elections, we have the same obligation to our voters to ensure that their voices are accurately recorded and heard. That is why, again, like in the June 11 meeting, I asked that we do this so we are transparent and that we are providing accurate information, and to ensure that every vote is counted. I do not believe that is the case at this moment.”

Butler’s plea would not persuade enough board members in the end. Chairman Michael Ghioto, who broke the tie and voted with Lanier and Sellers to forgo the recount, blamed a lack of volunteers to conduct it. 

“I can’t force people to do what they don’t want to do,” said Ghioto, who noted a Republican, a Democrat and an Independent are required to oversee the process of a recount. Ghioto said only a Democrat had volunteered, Dufort. 

Butler countered that an independent panel could be assembled to perform the recount, but the BOER did not vote on her suggestion. Although Butler and Jackson voted for the recount and against certifying the election, they were outnumbered by Sellers, Lanier and Ghioto. 

In the public comment portion of the meeting, Dufort delivered a scathing complaint against the BOER for not only defeating the recount effort, but for jeopardizing the health of election volunteers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am just personally disgusted with the bunch of you for making us choose between being involved in doing our duty to make elections happen and happen under watchful citizen oversight and choosing to play with our health,” said Dufort. 

Dufort accused the BOER of acting irresponsibly during the election by not requiring volunteers and voters to use protective wear and not enforcing social distancing guidelines. 

“What I really want to convey to you is my absolute disappointment in the health-related way you chose to conduct the election,” said Dufort. “You put all of us who were involved in the election at a health risk. You were irresponsible in the conduct of this election and you didn’t follow the guidelines that Morgan County has implemented in all of its other departments in terms of public safety. You didn’t require your workers to use the protective devices you handed out and you didn’t provide a safe, socially-distanced space in the election office throughout all of last week.”

Fred Johnson also issued a public comment at the end of the meeting, arguing that voters are to blame for the votes that were not counted. Johnson argued a recount would be too time-consuming. 

“It’s very important when we have to do all the scanning, that the ballots be marked correctly,” said Johnson. “The instructions were to fill in the little dot and some voters evidently decided instead of doing that to use checks or X’s. Doing those things did not allow them to be counted. I think those ballots should be rejected because they were not filled out correctly and the directions were not followed.”

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