State probes Fulton elections errors

State probes Fulton elections errors

Fulton County made an array of errors in the July 31 primary, putting voters in the wrong elections, declaring results to the state more than an hour late and producing data that doesn't add up.

Now state elections officials want to know whether Fulton performed poorly enough to throw off some of the final results, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp confirmed. The state has launched an investigation into the county's elections procedures.

"I wouldn't restrict it or limit it to any race at this point," Kemp spokesman Jared Thomas said, declining to elaborate.

Fulton Registration and Elections has historically had far more trouble with its election processes than other counties, earning a reputation for being perpetually last to count its votes. Poor staffing and procedures have been blamed, as well has the volume of voters and districts in the state's largest county.

Fulton says that while some 690 voters in Sandy Springs and southeast Atlanta were assigned to the wrong state Senate and state House elections last week, the errors weren't enough to change the outcome of any races. But a losing candidate in the Fulton's sheriff's race thinks the problems go deeper and has requested a recount that will start Wednesday.

"There's so many discrepancies in the numbers, it's pitiful," former Sheriff Richard Lankford said.

Fulton already flummoxed Kemp's office by failing to return calls on election day, though Fulton elections Director Sam Westmoreland says the two offices were in constant communication.

Then on Monday the elections board missed the deadline to certify election results by an hour and a half, which leaves the county subject to fines by the State Election Board. Fulton was last in the state to make its results official.

"I don't think it was an egregious error," county elections board Vice Chair Stan Matarazzo said. "It just happened, and it's the sheer volume of what you have to go through to get it right."

In addition, the results showed several of Fulton's precincts had a voter turnout greater than 100 percent, including one with a 23,300 percent turnout.

The elections board is looking for an independent investigator to find out what went wrong, Chairman Rod Edmond said.

"The voters deserve to know what happened," he said, "[regardless] of whether it caused any significant differences in terms of the outcome of a vote."

Most of the trouble last week stems from redistricting, Westmoreland said. The state Legislature redrew district boundaries statewide earlier this year, meaning dozens of counties had to adjust. Westmoreland's office failed to put everyone on the right sides of the new lines.

Such flubs are nothing new for Fulton. In 2008, the office's absentee ballot processing went so slow that the county had to hire FedEx to ship nearly 4,000 ballots to voters overnight, costing more than $300,000.

Then, after closing the polls, workers spent 53 hours in a warehouse counting absentee and provisional ballots.

At issue with Tuesday's races are the Republican primary for Senate District 6, which Hunter Hill took with 52.6 percent of the vote, and the Democratic primary for House District 58, which Simone Bell won with 58.7 percent.

In the latter case, about 345 voters in a ten-street area of Reynoldstown were misassigned to the House District 59 race.

There were also reports of absentee Democratic voters in the Midtown area being incorrectly sent ballots for the House District 57 race between Pat Gardner and Rashaad Taylor, rather than the House District 56 race between Kenneth Britt and "Able" Mable Thomas.

So far, only one losing candidate has requested a recount. Fulton Sheriff Ted Jackson, facing four challengers, avoided a runoff with 50.05 percent of the vote.

Lankford says the numbers don't make sense. Since all 348 precincts reported, the vote totals have changed repeatedly, he said.

"Fulton County ought to be very embarrassed by this," he said.

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