DeKalb commission candidate asks for hand count

DeKalb County Commission candidate Michell Long Spears. SPECIAL PHOTO

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DeKalb County Commission candidate Michell Long Spears. SPECIAL PHOTO

An establishment-backed DeKalb County commission candidate is calling for a hand count of Tuesday’s election results, citing what she called multiple “red flags” in the precinct-level data and day-of vote counts.

County elections officials, meanwhile, confirmed the department was conducting its regular post-election day audit while also looking into the specific issues raised by Democrat Michelle Long Spears. They said they believe any oddities within the initial results — which are considered unofficial and incomplete until being certified next week — could be a simple “display error.”

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Election officials said they didn’t know if the issues were seen in more than the single commission race.

“I will say as of now, these numbers are being verified but we believe that the [overall] tally is accurate,” DeKalb elections director Keisha Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Spears, a nonprofit consultant and former member of the DeKalb ethics board, is one of three Democrats vying to replace longtime Commissioner Jeff Rader. Rader endorsed her shortly after announcing he wouldn’t seek reelection for the District 2 seat that represents parts of the Decatur, Brookhaven and Atlanta areas in northwest DeKalb.

Marshall Orson, an outgoing DeKalb school board member, and Lauren Alexander, a local consultant and activist, also joined the race.

Results posted by DeKalb County early Wednesday showed none of the candidates eclipsed the 50% mark necessary to avoid a runoff election next month. Orson was in the lead with Alexander in second; Spears was in third place, about 1,300 votes shy of qualifying.

But Spears said that campaign staffers and supporters soon began sending her pictures of polling places showing she received zero election day votes. She said she drove around and checked nine precincts herself — including the one where she and her husband voted Tuesday — and all of them showed the same thing.

Spears did recently draw the ire of the local Democratic Party chairman and others, after a forum in which she referred to 2020 protests against police violence and white supremacy as a “racial uprising.” But she said Wednesday that she’d been trending well in early and absentee voting and the election day totals just didn’t make sense.

The reported overall vote total from the District 2 race (about 14,000) was also much lower than another commission race in District 3 (more than 27,000).

Elections officials said Wednesday that “display errors” in the District 2 results were created by the existence of a fourth candidate who qualified for the race then withdrew. Don Broussard’s name was still listed on the ballot and, while any votes cast for him were not counted, the removal of his name during tabulation seemingly shifted how totals were presented on reports, Smith said.

“We have folks looking through the poll pads, all of the equipment, going through the whole entire process from start to finish” to figure out exactly what happened, Smith said.

The county elections board is scheduled to certify results during a meeting next Tuesday.

“We just need accurate reporting of the election results. That’s what I’m seeking,” Spears said. “I think that if it was a technical error, it needs to be resolved. But in addition to that, I think they need to go back and recount the ballots and tally it up. Because obviously there’s a problem.”

Elsewhere, two incumbent DeKalb County commissioners appeared to soundly defeat challengers in their own Democratic primaries.

With no Republican candidates on November’s general election ballot, District 3′s Larry Johnson and Super District 7′s Lorraine Cochran-Johnson are set to serve their sixth and second terms, respectively, on the commission.