DeKalb County finishes counting most absentee ballots; see results

DeKalb County residents wait outside Ray Hope Christian Church in Decatur to cast their votes in the Georgia primary after 7 p.m. Tuesday, the original poll closing time. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

It appears that DeKalb County has now counted most of the votes cast in last week's tumultuous primary election.

The county had finished tabulating most day-of voting within 24 hours of last Tuesday's election. But the dramatic number of mail-in absentee ballots — nearly 100,000, more than election day and early voting combined — took many days to tally.

The latest results, which were posted to the county website Tuesday morning, are believed to reflect all but about 3,000 of DeKalb's absentee ballots.

“I think that ... getting election results on election night is gonna be a thing of the past for awhile,” elections board chairman Sam Tillman said.

See results from key local races at the bottom of this story.

Last week’s election day got off to a rough start, with officials in DeKalb and other counties across Georgia reporting issues getting various machines up and running. Many DeKalb precincts opened late and were forced to stay open well past the usual 7 p.m. closing time.

The technological issues added to long lines that were already expected due to a shortage of experienced poll workers and social distancing requirements associated with the coronavirus.

DeKalb officials have placed much of the blame for Tuesday's fiasco on the secretary of state's office and the new voting system. But they said they are also evaluating what the county could have done better and how they can be better prepared for August's runoff elections and November's presidential election.

Tillman has said he’s considering asking the county Board of Commissioners — which does not have oversight of the elections office but allocates funding — for more money to cover additional staff and more ballot scanners.

DeKalb’s elections office had only five ballot scanners to work with over the last week. Three of them were down for several hours Friday and Saturday and had to be replaced or repaired, Tillman said.

The county will begin its mid-year budget process soon.

"I would imagine it will be a metaphysical certainty that we will very specifically and purposefully focus on the department of elections budget,” said Commissioner Nancy Jester, who chairs of the commission’s finance, audit and budget committee.

Commissioner Larry Johnson said he plans to have the elections board brief the commission’s operations committee next week.

“We want to tackle as many snafus as we can in this process before we get ready for the big one,” Johnson said during a Tuesday meeting.

The latest results for key DeKalb County races are listed below. Keep in mind that results are incomplete and will remain unofficial until being certified on Friday.

Sheriff

By Tuesday morning, it appeared that incumbent Melody Maddox was set to become DeKalb County’s next full-term sheriff — but will have to fight to remain in office for the rest of 2020.

Thanks to a mix of already unusual circumstances and the implications of COVID-19, voters casting ballots in DeKalb last week had two sheriff’s races to choose from. One was a Democratic primary to decide who would face off against a lone Republican candidate, Harold Dennis, come November.

Maddox, who took office late last year after the resignation of Sheriff Jeffrey Mann, appeared to have eclipsed the 50% threshold to win the eight-candidate primary outright and avoid a runoff.

In heavily democratic DeKalb, she would be all but guaranteed to win the general election in the fall and begin a new four-year term in January.

Then there’s the other contest.

Mann left office late last year amid a battle over his law enforcement certification that started following his 2017 arrest in Piedmont Park. As DeKalb’s chief deputy, Maddox took over as sheriff.

But DeKalb officials later called a special election to fill the rest of Mann’s term, which runs through the end of this year.

Originally scheduled to coincide with Georgia’s presidential preference primary in March, it got postponed twice. Thus, a nine-way nonpartisan special election for sheriff wound up on the same ballots as the primary.

Maddox led the way in the special election, too — but did not eclipse the threshold required to avoid a runoff.

It appears she’s now set to face off with Ruth “The Truth” Stringer on Aug. 11.

Stringer retired last year after 30 years with the sheriff's office. She also served as sheriff during a 40-day suspension Mann served following his arrest.

Commission, District 1

Four Democratic candidates were vying for the right to challenge incumbent Nancy Jester -- DeKalb’s only Republican commissioner -- in November.

As of Wednesday morning, retired entrepreneur Cynthia Yaxon and former Doraville city councilman Robert Patrick were within a few hundred votes of each other at the top of the pack and appeared headed to a runoff.

District 1 covers the northern tip of DeKalb, including the Dunwoody, Chamblee, Doraville and Tucker areas.

Commission, Super District 6

In Super District 6 — which covers the entire western half of DeKalb — three Democrats were vying to replace retiring longtime Commissioner Kathie Gannon.

In a surprise result, political newcomer Maryam Ahmad was in second and appeared destined to join former Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry in a runoff.

Emily Halevy, a smart development advocate who had the backing of Gannon and two other sitting commissioners, did not make the cut.

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