Voting problems, fraud, scandals plague polling places across America: Georgia
GEORGIA – November 16, 2018
On Wednesday the Georgia Republican Party filed а 21-page ethics complaint against the Stacey Abrams for Governor campaign alleging unlawful spending.
The Georgia GOP claims “the campaign broke campaign finance laws by approving a $250,000 TV advertisement for an imaginary gubernatorial run-off. Stacey Abrams’ campaign is also illegally using funds to digitally advertise the same ‘run-off.’”
On November 9, Stacey Abrams for Governor Campaign Manager Lauren Groh-Wargo tweeted:
“The Abrams campaign has been preparing for all possibilities. Voters who previously elected to vote by mail are receiving by mail today an absentee ballot application for the Dec 4 runoff, and we just approved a $250k TV buy.”
The Abrams campaign has been preparing for all possibilities. Voters who previously elected to vote by mail are receiving by mail today an absentee ballot application for the Dec 4 runoff, and we just approved a $250k TV buy. #CountEveryVote #CantTrustKemp #gapol #teamabrams— Lauren Groh-Wargo (@gwlauren) November 9, 2018
Under the law, unless an election is called for and set by the Secretary of State, television commercials cannot run. The Georgia GOP claims that Abrams decision to run the ad violates the “spirit and the letter of the law.” The Party says election funds cannot be used for an election that is not occurring and that the use of funds for radio, television, and even staff is wrong, AllOnGeorgia reported.
The Party, in the complaint, asks the State Ethics Commission to take “immediate action.”
In a press release issued Wednesday, the GA GOP said, “Now is the time to bring Abrams’ political profiteering to an end. The Abrams campaign appears to be breaking the law by spending money on an election that does not exist. She is continuing to trick her supporters into thinking the 2018 race for Georgia Governor is not over, and her campaign is profiting off her fantasy.”
Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party John Watson also issued the following statement:
“Stacey Abrams has gone beyond just being a sore loser and is now blatantly breaking the law. She is ignoring the will of Georgians and leading an effort that makes a mockery of democracy.
“Georgians recall that Abrams had no problem with Georgia’s election laws back in May when she won her primary. This frivolous effort to change the rules is solely due to her inability to accept she lost. She should concede and do the right thing for Georgians by supporting Governor Elect Kemp.”
Abrams’ hopes rest on a string of federal lawsuits that could trigger the counting of absentee and provisional votes that were previously rejected. A swirl of orders has already raised the possibility that more of those ballots could soon be tallied, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
That includes a ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Monday that ordered election officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots that were cast because voters’ registration or identification couldn’t be verified at the polls.
Totenberg’s order didn’t say whether additional provisional ballots should be counted, but she required officials to provide more information about a trove of ballots that were rejected. That case is still pending.
A separate ruling on Tuesday ordered Gwinnett officials to count absentee ballots that contain errors or omissions in birthdates, a court order that could affect roughly 300 ballots that were rejected there. Another cache of as many as 150 absentee ballots with alleged signature mismatches could also be tallied, county officials said.
And a ruling late Wednesday this week required Georgia election officials to accept a new trove of rejected absentee ballots.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in a lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party that county election officials must count absentee ballots that are missing correct birthdate information. It’s not immediately clear how many votes it could affect.
But the judge denied a request by Democrats to accept provisional ballots from people who tried to vote in a county where they weren’t registered.
On Tuesday, The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections missed a state-mandated deadline to submit official election results to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Athens Banner-Herald reported.
There is no risk that the county’s votes will be thrown out. But because the board is in violation of Georgia law by missing Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, the county may be subject to an investigation by the state.
Athens-Clarke is one of a handful of Georgia counties that failed to certify election results by the deadline, according to Associated Press reports. As of midday Wednesday, though, only Gwinnett County still had not certified its results, noted the Associated Press.
The Athens-Clarke elections board missed the deadline while attempting to complete a recount of the results from eight precincts. Citizens from those precincts had petitioned the board for the “recanvass,” which legally obligated the board to conduct the recount.
Charlotte Sosebee, Athens-Clarke director of elections and voter registration said any investigation launched by the state might examine the county’s election results, recount results, poll worker training and more.
The board was in a tough position. If it had not conducted the recount, it would have been in violation of one state law; but by missing Tuesday’s deadline to certify the county’s votes with the Secretary of State, they became in violation of another.
For a recanvass, board members and elections staff must verify the numbers of both the electronic votes cast on polling machines and the paper ballots mailed in from absentee voters.
There was a setback in the recanvass because of the way the state’s voting system works. Paper ballot totals can’t be broken down by precinct. That boosted the number of individual ballots being scanned for a recount from a few hundred from 8 precincts to nearly 3,000 from 16 precincts covering all of Athens-Clarke County.
It took about six hours to recount the paper ballots as they each must be fed into a scanner one at a time, according to elections officials.
Various irregularities appear to have occurred across Georgia last week’s election for governor and other statewide offices, according to interviews by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with voters, campaign operatives and election officials.
A poll worker in Atlanta hoarded the last of his precinct’s provisional ballots, doling them out to select voters while turning others away.
Cobb County wouldn’t let a new resident cast a ballot even though both her driver’s license and her voter registration card displayed her new address.
Fulton County still can’t verify that it received an Atlanta woman’s ballot in October. When the woman asked an election official over the telephone whether her vote had counted, she said the official “just kind of snorted.”
Voters filed into voter registration offices with evidence of their identities, their addresses, their citizenship or other details that could prove their eligibility. Some were not successful.
Spelman College freshmen Kennedy Hayes and Maya Barefield said they registered this fall – Hayes during a voter registration drive on the Atlanta campus, Barefield on a form she mailed to the Secretary of State’s office. But they had to cast provisional ballots on Election Day after poll workers couldn’t verify their registrations. The result was the same Friday at the Fulton County elections office. Both students, who had been eager to vote for Abrams, a Spelman alumna, left disappointed, their votes uncounted.
Abrams’ campaign said Friday that unknown numbers of Georgians were deterred from voting by long lines at polling places. In many locations, complained Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager, voting machines malfunctioned, and voters had to cast provisional ballots on paper.
Across the state, though, voters say they were turned away for specious reasons or had absentee ballots improperly rejected. Darryl Joachim of Gwinnett County said he failed to note his date of birth on the envelope for his absentee ballot – an omission that led officials to reject the ballot.
Mary Gallegos thought she had done everything right when she moved from Fulton to Cobb County last year: She updated both her voter registration and her driver’s license. But when she went to vote at Kell High School on Tuesday, poll workers could not verify that she was registered in Cobb County.
She asked to speak to a supervisor, who in turn called his own superior. “No,” she said he told her, “you can’t have a provisional ballot.” Workers told her to try voting in her old precinct, in South Fulton – where she was no longer legally eligible.
Iris Schaer of Atlanta voted October 16. But when she checked her ballot on the Secretary of State’s website, nothing appeared. A series of telephone calls led her to a county elections official who, she said, “snorted” when asked about the validity of Schaer’s vote. Another worker, Schaer said, told her that “it probably went through.”
“I don’t know” whether it counted, she said. “That’s where I am, and I’ve accepted that. I can’t give any more time or energy to making sure.”
Grace Sotomayor was turned away from what she thought was her precinct in southeast Georgia’s Bryan County. She recently moved from Bryan County to Savannah, but didn’t update her voter registration. Her driver’s license, though, showed her new address, so Bryan County officials would not let her vote – even on a provisional ballot, because she appeared in not just the wrong precinct, but the wrong county. By the time she got to Savannah, the polls had closed.
“I learned my lesson,” Sotomayor said. “But I do think there are a lot of ambiguities. I almost feel like it’s meant to be that way to deter people.”
On Election Day, Metro Atlanta voters stood in long lines, amid a surge in turnout that made the midterm election resemble a presidential contest. As they waited — some for hours — hundreds of voting machines sat unused, locked up in government warehouses, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
Ready to wait? Hundreds of voters stand in line for hours this morning at this SW Atlanta polling place. Only three voting machines! What’s going on here? Live report at noon. pic.twitter.com/lewTPUZnf1— Tom Regan (@tomreganWSB) November 6, 2018
With fewer machines in precincts, voters faced heavy delays, often more than an hour, before they got to the front of the line. The issue affected voters in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, the three jurisdictions covered by the court case.
Election officials said the next day that the lack of voting machines — combined with high turnout and wordy constitutional amendments — created some of the longest lines in years. They said that by the time they realized turnout would significantly exceed the last midterm election, there wasn’t time to find additional machines.
“We thought we had enough until turnout started expanding, and with the ballot being long and complicated, the time at the touchscreen was longer,” said Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler. “We had voters who called and expressed their frustration.”
There were about 1,050 voting machines in Cobb precincts Tuesday while about 550 were sequestered. The county could have deployed a total of about 1,400 voting machines if they had been available, Eveler said.
Another 700 direct-recording electronic voting machines were out of service in Fulton, along with 585 in DeKalb.
The machines are set aside because of an order by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg last December that called for preservation of evidence in a lawsuit seeking to move Georgia from electronic voting machines to paper ballots. Totenberg denied a motion in September to immediately throw out the state’s voting machines, but the lawsuit is still underway.
Throughout Election Day, many voters complained that when they arrived to vote they were met with fewer machines.
There were only four voting machines at First Presbyterian Church on Peachtree Street in Fulton County, a sharp reduction from the 10 or 15 available in the 2016 presidential election, said Rob Lami, who waited an hour and 45 minutes to vote.
Another voter, Paul Johnson, said he saw the long line and came back later Tuesday. After he returned, he still had to wait two hours.
Extreme lines and technical difficulties caused judges to order three precincts in Fulton to remain open late. Three more precincts in Gwinnett stayed open beyond the normal closing time because of separate problems unrelated to having too few voting machines, such as machines running out of batteries.
NBC News has confirmed that the issue at Anderson Livsey Elementary in Snellville, GA was indeed a lack of power cords. Gwinnett County Director of Communications Joe Sorenson tells @NBCNews “the machine was not supplied power and was running on battery & the battery ran out” ???? https://t.co/YFa45nihXs— Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) November 6, 2018
In Fulton, Elections Director Richard Barron said the county had about 40 spare machines, and they had to be kept as a backup in case other machines had issues. There were nearly 2,000 voting machines in use in Fulton this election.
“We have a shortage,” Barron said. “We’re somewhat stuck with how many machines we can put out in the field.”
An unrelated mistake led to too few machines at Pittman Park Recreation Center, where only three voting machines were initially available before five more were sent later. Barron said the location contains two precincts, and voting machines were incorrectly allocated based on the number of registered voters in the smaller precinct.
On November 13, Muscogee County board rejects majority of provisional ballots from Nov. 6 election, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported. Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registrations spent about six hours sifting through provisional ballots Tuesday to certify Columbus’ Nov. 6 vote tallies. It had 352 provisional ballots to consider, and accepted 130 while rejecting 222.
People cast provisional ballots when they encounter some problem at the polls that prohibits their voting on the touch-screen voting machines everyone else uses. Among the impediments may be lacking the required photo ID or not showing up on the voting rolls.
Ballots were rejected for various reasons, such as voters not being registered, being registered in another county, casting an absentee ballot in another county, or being a convicted felon ineligible to vote.
Most rejections involved voters living in other counties, said Nancy Boren, Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registrations Executive Director.