Cobb Elections recertifies election results in the wake of blunders

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The Cobb Board of Elections recertified election results Friday after officials this week found a memory card of ballots that had not been uploaded.

The error changed results of the Kennesaw City Council special election, and is one of a series of mistakes the elections department made this cycle.

The updated results place Lynette Burnette ahead of the originally-certified winner, Madelyn Orochena, by 31 votes in the seven-candidate race.

Orochena said she filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office and requested a recount.

“I’ve just been doing everything that I can do that’s with my rights to try to gain some more knowledge and shed some more light and hopefully gain some more confidence that this was a fair election,” she said.

Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, confirmed receiving the complaint.

“Our office has opened an investigation into the matter, to determine exactly what happened, why it happened, and what election officials need to do to prevent future incidents,” he said.

Elections Chairwoman Tori Silas said while the board must move forward with certification, it will conduct a recount of the Kennesaw council race and will be doing “a root-cause analysis, trying to get to the bottom of why these errors occurred.”

On Thursday, the Board of Commissioners asked election officials to present a report on the election errors and to show how they plan to make sure they are not repeated.

“The issues that have come up this time, they exceed any number of issues that I ever have known us to experience, at least during the time that I’ve been here,” Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said.

The department is adding additional reviews to its processes and additional training for its newer employees, said Elections Director Janine Eveler. Silas also asked for a daily report to be sent to all the election board members showing the number of absentee ballot applications received and mailed during the runoff.

Four out-of-state absentee voters sued the Cobb elections division after an investigation found that as many as 1,036 absentee ballots were never sent to voters that had requested them.

After that error was discovered, the county sent most of the ballots via overnight mail, and a judge approved a consent order to extend the return deadline for those absentee ballots as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

More than 100 of the ballots were hand-delivered on Election Day, Eveler said.

Of the 1,422 voters who requested absentee ballots on Oct. 13 and Oct. 22 — the two dates on which the mistake was made — 191 did not vote.

Nearly 600 voted via absentee ballot, over 500 canceled their absentee ballots and voted early in person, and 125 voted in person on Election Day.

Going forward, teams of workers will check each other’s work, and workers will also review the machine-packed ballots against a list of the requested ballots to ensure none are missed, Eveler said.

“What we failed to do was check the packed ballots against the list of people” who applied for them, Eveler said to the elections board. “So that check was not happening, and no one caught that a whole list had not been done, twice.” That review process had already been in place but not properly followed, she added.

The Cobb elections department dealt with a few other minor issues, including some voters receiving incorrect ballots due to redistricting errors during early voting.

Because of high turnover over the last few years, many of the employees are new to the processes and need to receive additional training, Eveler said.

“There’s some learning curve in some of the complex things that we do,” she said to county commissioners. “It’s going to be a struggle to get people really trained and to get those processes in place, and we’re going to do it, because I want to be cognizant of the community’s trust in us.”