DeKalb says it’s fixed ballot error in Atlanta school board race

Different issue with APS race on ballots in Fulton also is being addressed
DeKalb County elections officials say they have fixed a ballot error for the Atlanta school board race. (Miguel Martinez / AJC file photo)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

DeKalb County elections officials say they have fixed a ballot error for the Atlanta school board race. (Miguel Martinez / AJC file photo)

When Brittany Schwartzwald went to vote for the Atlanta school board race on the first day of early voting this week, she noticed a mistake on her ballot.

As a resident of Candler Park in DeKalb County, she should have had a ballot showing the candidates for District 3, Michelle Olympiadis and Ken Zeff, in addition to two at-large seats. Instead, her ballot showed the at-large candidates and the unopposed incumbent for District 1, Katie Howard.

“I take my card out (of the voting machine), I hand it back to the (poll worker) and go outside and the poll manager calls DeKalb and we wait 45 minutes and everyone tells me I’m wrong and the ballot is right,” said Schwartzwald.

She also called her state representative, Saira Draper, who votes in the same precinct. Draper is also a civil rights attorney who served as the director of voter protection for the Democratic Party of Georgia before running for office. Draper called officials in DeKalb, Fulton and the city of Atlanta.

“My hypothesis was that old maps had been used,” Draper says. “I contacted DeKalb about that and initially, they said no, that they had used the correct map.”

DeKalb elections officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they indeed had incorrect ballots. DeKalb now says the problem has been resolved.

“We’ve been informed about a redistricting issue impacting 3,147 Candler Park and Lin-Mary Lin Elem(entary) voters,” DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections spokesperson Sherial Cubit said in a statement to the AJC. We’re aware of two instances where City of Atlanta Board of Education District 3 voters received ballots for District 1. Our records indicate that only two (2) voters received the incorrect ballot during advance voting and zero (0) by mail. The issue has since been resolved and all voters from those precincts will now receive the correct ballot.”

Also Wednesday, Atlanta election officials said due to an oversight during qualification, Jessica Johnson, the incumbent candidate in the At-Large District 9 race, was not listed as such on ballots in Fulton County. Johnson was listed as the incumbent on DeKalb ballots.

Because the errors were caught early, it’s unlikely to impact the election results much. However, a losing candidate could contest the election if the number of disputed votes cast exceeded the margin of defeat.

The Georgia Legislature this spring passed Senate Bill 317, which changed the boundaries for the Atlanta school board districts. Draper said Atlanta officials likely sent DeKalb the old maps instead of the new ones, which should have been used. Draper said she voted Tuesday afternoon and received the correct ballot.

The Georgia secretary of state’s office said voters who receive the wrong ballot can file a complaint, which would prompt a state investigation. Then, the state election board could decide to impose fines or refer the case to the attorney general’s office.

Schwartzwald said she’s not likely to file a complaint.

“I don’t really think any more time or money should be spent on fixing a thing that’s no longer a problem,” she said. “I would like just a courtesy call.”

Schwartzwald cast her vote with the wrong ballot.

“I made a miscalculated error,” she says. “I thought it was more impactful to cast the vote and preserve the error. In doing that, I really disenfranchised myself. I shouldn’t have cast the vote.”

Voting in Georgia is anonymous, so there’s no way to trace a vote back to the person who cast it.

Draper says situations like these could be avoided if Georgia engaged in a process used in other states called “ballot proofing.”

“Stakeholders are able to take a look at those ballots (before voters receive them) ... and say, ‘Hey, this is correct or not correct, should be changed,’ whatever it is,” she says.

Draper said she hadn’t planned to introduce ballot proofing legislation in 2024 because she didn’t want to overburden counties and municipalities that run elections. But after this error, she’s considering it.

“This is the type of thing that for a little bit of investment in the front end, you prevent these potentially really devastating errors later on,” she says.

The AJC reached out to both District 3 candidates. Zeff responded.

“Our campaign knocked on 2,900 doors throughout District 3 and folks want their voice heard,” he said via text message. “This election is about improving connection and trust between the Board and the community, that is why it is imperative that we get this election right.”

Fulton County plans to address the error in the APS District 9 race include:

  • reprinting provisional ballots
  • absentee ballots will be reprinted and remailed with a letter informing voters of the correction
  • composite ballots and sample ballots posted will be reprinted
  • the composite ballot on the Fulton County website will be edited