Votes miscounted in LaVista Hills referendum, results unchanged

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

LaVista Hills vote by the numbers

A referendum to create a city of LaVista Hills fell short by 139 votes out of 13,733 votes cast, according to official vote results certified Monday. The margin was 136 votes until election officials added 19 provisional ballots — eight for and 11 against — that they had overlooked last week.

No: 50.51% (6,936 votes)

Yes: 49.49% (6,797 votes)

Source: DeKalb elections office

DeKalb County miscounted votes in last week’s LaVista Hills cityhood referendum and other elections, an error that will be part of an ongoing state investigation into alleged voting irregularities.

County election officials acknowledged Monday that they overlooked 41 provisional ballots countywide, including 19 in the proposed city of LaVista Hills. With the new votes included, the cityhood effort’s margin of defeat grew from 136 votes to 139.

“DeKalb County Board of Election and Registration’s failure to include provisional ballots in its certified election results is an alarming breach of Georgia election law,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. “These new facts will be included in our ongoing investigation into DeKalb County.”

DeKalb Elections Director Maxine Daniels said the votes weren’t misplaced or lost, but election officials neglected to include them in Friday’s certified vote count. Provisional ballots are used when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility.

“We were aware of them — they just weren’t in that tabulation,” Daniels said. “I can’t even explain how it happened. … I take responsibility for it as the director. There were a lot of things happening and we didn’t follow our procedures and get it right.”

Daniels said Friday she had triple-checked the results and had confidence in their accuracy. After realizing provisional ballots had been missed, the DeKalb elections board added those votes and recertified vote totals Monday.

Kemp and the GBI opened an investigation of the election Thursday after a DeKalb elections supervisor, Leonard Piazza, reported voting irregularities, including an allegation that a voting machine memory card wasn't properly secured.

The investigation will review the election’s accuracy, security and procedures, as well as allegations that voters were prevented from participating in the election.

Meanwhile, LaVista Hills supporters may contest the election's results in court. LaVista Hills Alliance has heard complaints that voters were refused ballots, military personnel didn't receive ballots, poll workers made disparaging comments in front of voters and doors were locked at one precinct.

The revelations of the undercounted results raises even more concerns about the election, said Mary Kay Woodworth, president of LaVista Hills Alliance

“It does not instill a lot of confidence that this particular election was handled professionally,” she said. “It’s this kind of lack of attention to detail and lack of focus that seems inherent of what’s happening in so many of the DeKalb County government’s departments.”

If the state investigation finds violations, the State Election Board could levy fines or recommend prosecutions.

Problems with Fulton County’s elections in 2008 and 2012 resulted in $180,000 in penalties and investigation costs, according to a settlement approved by the State Election Board in August.

Most of the violations in that case involved about 9,600 voters who had to cast provisional ballots because their names didn’t appear on registration lists at the polls.

Across DeKalb, election outcomes didn’t change because of the votes that were added to the total Monday, but vote counts moved in several races.

Of the 19 previously uncounted provisional ballots in the LaVista Hills area, 11 residents voted no and eight voted yes on the cityhood referendum.

There were 13,733 total votes in the LaVista Hills referendum, which failed by just more than 1 percentage point, according to the updated figures.