DeKalb County: Voters air grievances after election

DeKalb County voters go to the polls on Election Day in November 2016 at the Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain. KENT D. JOHNSON /

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DeKalb County voters go to the polls on Election Day in November 2016 at the Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain. KENT D. JOHNSON /

DeKalb County’s Board of Registration and Elections got an earful from residents with complaints about problems during May’s primary and last month’s runoff, as well as those with concerns about whether enough is being done to ensure the integrity of upcoming votes.

Residents came to the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting to question why some people received the wrong ballot in a state House race, why only one site was open for early voting, and why the county isn’t more actively pursuing ways to guard against tampering in upcoming elections.

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Some voters who live in Rep. Scott Holcomb’s north DeKalb district received ballots listing a different House race during the May primary. The error wasn’t caught until after votes had been cast.

Holcomb said that about 700 voters lived in the area where the mix-up occurred, though the county said the issue ultimately affected just 122 people. Neither the county nor the state elections office have taken responsibility for the blunder, Holcomb said.

However, the Voter Registration and Elections office said it has begun “working to place the voters in the correct district in time for the November election. The staff also is implementing additional checks and balances to be used in future redistricting.”

Regarding early in-person voting sites, the county has not said how many will open ahead of the November general election. There were 10 sites prior to the May primary, but just one — at the main elections office on Memorial Drive — for the July runoff.

That was the reason for many residents' complaints to the election board. Holcomb said he decided to voice concerns particularly because the county did not provide any early voting sites within the 6th Congressional District where there was a competitive Democratic runoff.

“We think that we should have voting locations that are responsive to the elections that are taking place,” he said.

The Board of Elections said that, usually, it has only offered one early in-person voting site during runoffs. Turnout is historically low in these elections; only 9.4 percent of DeKalb voters cast ballots.

The county said that it did provide Saturday voting ahead of the runoff although it wasn’t required by law. However, some residents called for more sites and longer hours to increase access.

Board members said some of the issues raised by residents who attended the July 30 meeting are outside of their control.

“There are decisions we cannot make at this level,” Samuel Tillman, a Democratic member of the election board, told the crowd. “It must be made at the state level.”

That includes discussion about replacing the state's electronic voting machines with a system that allows everyone to receive a paper ballot. The Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission, working through the Secretary of State's office, is in the process of reviewing options and is expected to make a recommendation to the General Assembly by the 2019 session.

Nancy Larson, who lives in Avondale Estates, has been working for years on issues around voter access and election integrity. She said the DeKalb Board of Elections could choose to lead the pack.

“We’d like to see them step up and use the power that they have to help implement change rather than just waiting on the Secretary of State’s office or the state election board,” she said.

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