“Vote here” sign outside Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta on May 24, 2016. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM Brant Sanderlin
Photo: Brant Sanderlin
Photo: Brant Sanderlin

Nearly 200 Georgians restored to voter rolls after discovery of glitch

Georgia accidentally kicked 171 voters off the state’s voting rolls two years ago due to a data glitch, catching the problem only in late August when Athens-Clarke County elections officials noticed that a voter requesting an absentee ballot had wrongly been marked as “canceled,” according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The affected voters are being notified and sent new precinct cards. There is no evidence that any voter affected by the issue was denied the right to vote in that two-year period and was turned away from the polls.

State officials also believe they have caught the entirety of the problem and said none of the 171 voters should have problems in the upcoming Nov. 8 presidential election.

“These voters will be able to cast a ballot on Election Day,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

State officials blamed the error on a switch from the state’s old voter registration database system to one that is in use today. Data from some of the more than 6 million files in the registration database did not transfer properly, or a programming error led them to be miscoded.

In all, the problem involved about 950 files in the state’s registration system, including several dozen duplicate records accidentally created in the system for some voters who had filled out multiple registration forms and later merged together.

The files had been mislabeled when the state last ran a sweep of the database in February 2014 to determine which voters had not cast a ballot within the previous two general election cycles — an event that usually triggers an effort to determine whether the voter has moved, died or should otherwise be removed from the rolls.

About 700 people whose files were affected by the problem still voted since that time with no problem, with local election officials making updates in the system to accurately reflect that they should be considered “active” on the rolls.

An additional 19 records involved people who had moved or died.

And then there were the 171 voters who were wrongly considered “canceled” — despite the records accurately reflecting that they had cast ballots recently enough to have been considered “active.”

More than likely, they can thank erstwhile Athens resident Melissa Marino for following up on her request to Athens-Clarke County officials to be sent a presidential ballot in Germany, where she currently works.

Marino had last voted in the 2012 presidential election — then, like now, by casting an absentee ballot from overseas. She said she is not a primary voter, and she did not seek to vote in Georgia’s presidential primary earlier this year. But in February, she said, she submitted a request for a November presidential ballot and then resubmitted it on Aug. 25 to be sure it was received.

Five days later, the local elections office notified the state: Why, they asked, does Marino’s file show “canceled” when she had voted in 2012 — soon enough to be considered in good standing?

Records show the question got immediate attention. Within two days, a conference call among staff and PCC Technology Group, the vendor Kemp’s office uses to manage voter information, produced a comprehensive list of voters affected by the issue, an explanation of what happened and a plan on how to correct and accurately code the records.

Marino — who had not heard about the problem until contacted by the AJC last week — said she felt no ill will about what happened but said it should be a reminder for voters to make sure all their information is up-to-date and correct via the Secretary of State Office’s online “my voter page” website (www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do).

She has also received confirmation that her application had been processed and that she would be receiving a ballot soon.

“I don’t think it was intentional,” Marino said of the glitch. “I don’t perceive anything sinister in this.”

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