DeKalb commission candidate asks elections board not to certify results

DeKalb County School District board member Marshall Orson speaks at the installment ceremony. The DeKalb County School District installed its new superintendent, Cheryl Watson-Harris, at the school’s district headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Thursday, July 1, 2020. To limit the spread of Covid-19, the ceremony was live-streamed and the audience was limited. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

Combined ShapeCaption
DeKalb County School District board member Marshall Orson speaks at the installment ceremony. The DeKalb County School District installed its new superintendent, Cheryl Watson-Harris, at the school’s district headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Thursday, July 1, 2020. To limit the spread of Covid-19, the ceremony was live-streamed and the audience was limited. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

DeKalb County commission candidate Marshall Orson has asked the local elections board not to certify results as scheduled on Friday, citing “numerous issues” that have surfaced in his race since election day.

In a letter sent to the board Thursday, he also asked for a formal recount and an “independent review” of the election.

“There is no rational basis for believing that there are not continuing issues with the results,” Orson wrote, “and the results should not be certified with the continuing existence of multiple substantive issues and concerns. Doing so would pose a substantial risk not only to the confidence the public will have in the overall election results from this race but could extend to the entire primary as well as the general election.”

ExploreUpdated results suggest new candidates for DeKalb commission runoff

Initial results posted shortly after the May 24 Democratic primary had Orson — a longtime school board member trying to transition to the county government — leading the three-candidate race for commission District 2, which covers parts of the Decatur, Brookhaven and Atlanta areas in northwestern DeKalb.

Opponent Lauren Alexander was in second place and, with neither candidate eclipsing the 50% mark, seemingly poised for a runoff with Orson. Michelle Long Spears was in third place, on the outside looking in.

Spears and her team, though, noticed that initial results showed her receiving zero election votes at most precincts in the district.

The secretary of state’s office later admitted that it had made several programming errors in voting equipment that led to errors in how Spears and other candidates’ votes were tallied.

That triggered an attempted re-scan of the District 2 ballots, which ultimately led to a a hand count that concluded around midnight on Memorial Day.

The results of that count were released Wednesday night — and showed Spears now leading the way and headed for a runoff with Alexander. Orson was in third place and out of contention for the scheduled June 21 runoff.

The hand count results suggested Spears had gained about 2,600 votes compared to the original count. Alexander had gained a few hundred. Orson had about 1,600 votes fewer than were reflected in the post-election day count.

Orson’s letter highlighted a number of issues reported with the District 2 race, including “a failure to provide a cogent and defensible explanation for the multiple discrepancies and issues in this race.”

“Numerous issues have been revealed regarding this race and it is imperative that the public have confidence that the results accurately reflect the will of the voters,” Orson wrote. “At this moment in time, the public cannot have such confidence.”

The elections board is currently scheduled to certify the results during a meeting at 5 p.m. Friday.

The District 2 race is a Democratic party primary, though with no Republicans on November’s general election ballot, the winner will become DeKalb’s newest commissioner-elect. John Jackson, chairman of the local Democratic Party, told The AJC that the board has his support if it chooses to proceed with certification.

“With the secretary of state’s office admitting that the programming error was on their end as far as bad reporting,” Jackson said, “the SOS and local elections offices have to look forward to the runoff and general election and plan on how they not let this happen again.”

But Orson’s complaints aren’t the only ones.

The DeKalb GOP has also asked the board to delay certification, as well as to conduct hand counts in additional races.

And Andrew Bell, a candidate in a separate southwest DeKalb commission race, has filed a petition in superior court asking, among other things, that a recount be conducted in that contest. The pro-se court filing cites the issues in District 2 as rationale, though it also erroneously suggests that precinct-level tabulations for Bell’s race and others have not been made available to the public.

Preliminary results show Bell losing his race against longtime District 3 commission Larry Johnson by more than 50 percentage points.

The ACLU of Georgia has also weighed in, using the DeKalb situation to criticize SB 202, the state’s newest election law. In a recent press release, the organization said the shortened window for certification made it “challenging enough” for local elections officials to ensure an accurate account under normal circumstances and “nearly impossible” in closes races and ones with technical problems that need to be addressed.

“The constrained certification deadline and four-week runoff period severely burden local election offices and give voters less time to make their voices heard,” executive director Andrea Young said.

See Orson’s letter below and return for updates.