Election officials struggled with new Georgia turnout disclosure

Poll workers outnumbered voters Tuesday morning at the Dunbar Neighborhood Center in Atlanta. Tuesday marked the first major election for the state's new voting law, Senate Bill 202, and that placed new requirements for reporting on county election offices. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Poll workers outnumbered voters Tuesday morning at the Dunbar Neighborhood Center in Atlanta. Tuesday marked the first major election for the state's new voting law, Senate Bill 202, and that placed new requirements for reporting on county election offices. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Election officials across Georgia were supposed to publicly report on election night the total number of ballots cast, a new requirement of the state’s voting law designed to increase transparency.

County election offices in metro Atlanta didn’t always fully comply.

Fulton County, which is already facing a state performance review, never posted its numbers online and submitted data to the secretary of state’s office a few minutes after a 10 p.m. deadline. DeKalb County disclosed turnout on its website Wednesday, the day after it was supposed to.

Cobb County posted its turnout information online and on time. Gwinnett County officials said that while several cities conducted elections Tuesday, the county didn’t do so and wasn’t subject to reporting mandates.

The requirement to report the total number of in-person and absentee ballots was included in Georgia’s new voting law in response to complaints about votes being counted late at night and after Election Day in last year’s presidential election. By disclosing how many total votes had been cast, the public would know how many are still left to be counted.

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Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said she believed the county had complied with the voting law, Senate Bill 202, by submitting its turnout numbers to the secretary of state’s office on election night, even though the law also requires counties to post that information in “a prominent public place.”

In DeKalb, elections officials said they too had fulfilled the reporting requirement by sending numbers to the state. The information was then made available online on Wednesday.

“In preparation of this new reporting requirement, a series of safeguards were implemented to ensure all of our poll managers understood the new requirements and provided their information ahead of the prescribed deadline,” said Twyla Hart, interim DeKalb elections director. “We continue to ensure we adhere to all requirements of SB 202 as we work to certify this election and host runoff elections on Nov. 30.”

The requirement added to the workload on election night, but Cobb employees were able to get it done. Cobb created a webpage that showed a breakdown of the total number of absentee ballots accepted and rejected, Election Day ballots, early votes and provisional ballots issued.

An employee who would have helped answer poll workers’ questions after precincts closed instead was assigned to verify turnout information, Cobb Election Director Janine Eveler said.

“The task of collecting and reporting numbers delayed the poll workers from starting their regular closing tasks,” Eveler said. “This likely delayed the returns from some polls.”

In all, 112 counties that held elections Tuesday provided turnout information, according to the secretary of state’s office. Several missed the 10 p.m. deadline.

Violations of the reporting requirement could lead to state election investigations and sanctions by the State Election Board. The secretary of state’s office declined to comment Wednesday.

After the performance review in Fulton is completed, the board could take over the county’s election board and install an interim superintendent, according to the state’s election law.

The turnout numbers reported by Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton were close to the number of ballots counted as of Wednesday afternoon, meaning few votes were left to be tallied before results are certified by counties on Monday. Military, overseas and provisional ballots can still be counted if they arrive by Friday.

The voting law also requires election workers to count ballots without stopping until they’re finished. Then county election directors must investigate and resolve discrepancies between the number of ballots cast and counted.


Ballots cast by county

Cobb: 50,175

DeKalb: 71,224

Fulton: 171,736

Gwinnett: Not reported

Source: Georgia secretary of state