Fulton recount finds omitted early votes, but no effect on results

Observers and candidates watch county election staff from a public viewing area in the new Fulton elections warehouse in Union City. County workers are recounting results from the 2023 municipal elections.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Combined ShapeCaption
Observers and candidates watch county election staff from a public viewing area in the new Fulton elections warehouse in Union City. County workers are recounting results from the 2023 municipal elections.

Credit: Jim Gaines

No change in results.

That was the verdict Tuesday afternoon of a full recount of municipal election results in Fulton County from Nov. 7 — save for Mountain Park, where a “technical glitch” with state software delayed results until later in the afternoon, according to Patrise Perkins-Hooker, chair of the Board of Registration & Elections.

Fulton County Elections Director Nadine Williams said Tuesday some batches of early in-person votes had been left out of unofficial totals posted after the election. The biggest changes were in Roswell elections, but some races in other cities saw minor corrections.

Perkins-Hooker and Williams said the recount, even with additional votes, did not affect the outcome of any races or the order in which candidates were ranked.

But the addition of military or provisional ballots on Monday do appear to have changed a participant in a forthcoming runoff for the District 5 seat on South Fulton’s city council. Initial totals showed Keoshia Bell one vote behind Kalvin Bennett, with both behind incumbent Corey Reeves. But Monday’s additions, as slightly modified by Tuesday’s recount, put Bell ahead of Bennett by seven votes. That would put Bell into the runoff with Reeves.

The board reconvened after 5 p.m. to finally certify Mountain Park’s races. One candidate had withdrawn Oct. 30, which threw off earlier reported totals, Williams said.

“The recount showed that the election results have remained the same,” she said.

Final changes to the vote tally, according to a comparison of certified totals with unofficial results, last updated Monday night, are:

  • Atlanta Board of Education District 5: Two more votes for incumbent and winner Erika Yvette Mitchell.
  • District 7: One vote less for challenger Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, three more for incumbent Tamara Jones.
  • District 9: Four more votes for winner Jessica Johnson.
  • College Park mayor: One more vote for incumbent winner Bianca Motley Broom, one more for challenger James Walker.
  • College Park Senior and Disabled Residents Homestead Exemption: Two more yes votes.
  • East Point City Council Ward A: One less for winner Eric Friedly.
  • Ward D: One less for incumbent Stephanie Gordon.
  • Johns Creek City Council Post 2: Three more votes for incumbent and winner Stacy Skinner.
  • Post 4: Three more for Chris Coughlin, incumbent and only candidate.
  • Post 6: Two more for Erin Elwood, incumbent and only candidate.
  • Roswell municipal judge: 287 more votes for incumbent and only candidate Brian Hansford.
  • Roswell City Council Post 1: 182 more votes for incumbent and winner Sarah Beeson, 173 more for challenger Jason Miller.
  • Post 2: 132 more votes for Michael Dal Cerro, 78 more for Marisa Pereia, and 145 more for Allen Sells.
  • Post 3: 183 more votes for incumbent and winner Christine Hall, and 171 more for challenger Lyndsey Coates.
  • Post 4: 198 more votes for winner David Johnson, and 152 more for Jade Terreberry.
  • South Fulton City Council District 1: Two less votes for incumbent Catherin Foster Rowell.
  • District 3: One less for incumbent Helen Zenobia Willis.
  • District 5: One less vote for Bell, one more for Bennett.
  • District 7: One less for incumbent Linda Becquer Pritchett.
  • Union City City Council: One more vote each for incumbents Christina Hobbs and Brian Jones.

None of those changes were sufficient to eliminate the need for runoff elections Dec. 5. Georgia law says if no candidate gets an outright majority in a municipality that doesn’t allow election by a simple plurality of votes, there will be a runoff between the two top vote-getters.

That means runoffs could potentially be held for the District 7 Atlanta school board seat; Ward B, C and D council seats in East Point; Roswell council Post 2; and the District 5 seat on South Fulton council. All those races had more than two candidates vying for one spot, with none getting more than 50% of the vote Nov. 7.

Altogether fewer than 58,000 people voted in the Nov. 7 election, just over 10% of registered voters; though not all cities in Fulton County had elections.

Fulton election officials, touting the relatively small municipal elections this year as a trial run of systems and a new election headquarters for the major local, state and national elections coming in 2024, announced they would hold a recount to check for any problems and bolster confidence in electoral systems.

During early voting, some voters in East Point and South Fulton council elections and Atlanta school board races said they were given the wrong ballots, following last year’s redistricting.

East Point and South Fulton also reported problems interfacing with GARVIS, the state’s voter information system.

Some of last Tuesday’s races were very close, so election officials decided to recount all votes for verification, Perkins-Hooker said.

On Monday afternoon about two dozen election observers and candidates gathered in the county’s new election hub in Union City to watch the recount, milling around a fenced-off area in one corner of the warehouse space adjacent to the glassed-in room where election results are uploaded to state servers.

County election staff next to and within that glass room brought boxes of absentee and early votes to run through optical scanners. Wheeled black cases containing results from 147 voting precincts on Election Day would be uploaded last, said LaShandra Little, county voter education and outreach manager.

A few military or provisional ballots were added to last Tuesday’s totals on Monday morning, Little said. Those would also be recounted; the voter review panel sat within the glass box, ready to rule on any questionable ballots.

“The numbers today will be what we certify tomorrow,” Little said Monday afternoon.

Originally, election officials expected to finish the recount within a few hours Monday afternoon and certify election results Tuesday morning. But the crowd thinned out as counting dragged on late Monday night.

The omission of some early votes was discovered during the recount, which resumed Tuesday morning. The elections board met at 11 a.m. Tuesday to certify results, but recessed until 2 p.m. — and then results still took more than another hour to arrive, with the Mountain Park race still out.

Due to a “technical glitch” with state election software those results were being checked yet again, Perkins-Hooker said, and would be certified closer to 5 p.m.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a brief statement as the Fulton board of elections met.

“This is exactly why we have an auditable paper ballot system,” he said. “When a county like Fulton makes a mistake, the system can be audited and corrected before certification.”

Although ballots are cast on electronic voting machines, those machines create a paper tally that can be checked against voting totals. Perkins-Hooker said the recount would do that.

“Voting at the polls, including both Election Day and absentee-in-person voting shall be conducted via ballots marked by electronic ballot markers and tabulated by ballot scanners,” says the Georgia law last updated in 2020.

Williams said there are “always” problems with GARVIS, and not just in Fulton County. Several other counties joined Fulton in sending complaints to the secretary of state, she said.

Elections board vice chair Michael Heekin, currently the board’s only Republican member, said the state’s adoption of GARVIS has made “much progress” since its announcement in 2022, but the system isn’t yet operating as it needs to. It must be fully functional before Georgia’s presidential primary March 12, he said.

Following the county’s full recount, Heekin said, he can say it was data problems with GARVIS — not attempts by people to vote multiple times — that caused inaccuracies.

“I am now confident that the votes have been accurately counted,” he said, and moved to certify the results.

About the Author