The Jolt: Election officials spot a software error that causes candidates to disappear. Has it happened before?

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

It’s time to revisit one of the great statistical mysteries of the 2018 general election.

You’ll recall that on Nov. 6 of that year, Republican Geoff Duncan beat Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico in the race for lieutenant governor, 52% to 48%, a margin of 123,172 votes. But there was something very strange about those results. From our files:

Every other November, in general elections, Georgia voters are asked to plow through a long ballot. Usually, though not always, a race for governor or the U.S. Senate tops a long list, followed by contests for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and so on.

With each down-ballot contest, more voters bleed away. In election after election, graphs of the phenomenon resemble a gentle, downward slope.

That's not what happened on Nov. 6. The pattern changed rather suspiciously.

In the race for governor, 3,939,328 voters cast a ballot. But in the No. 2 race for lieutenant governor, 159,024 of those voters--about 4 percent -- dropped away.

Then, in the next race down, 103,290 of those supposedly lost voters suddenly regained their interest and voted in the secretary of state contest. From there, the traditional downward slope of disappearing voters resumes.

Those numbers argue that Georgia's race for lieutenant governor became a canyon of lost votes.

You can search for a precedent for this kind of statistical hopscotching in Georgia’s electoral history, but you won’t find one. Nor was there any official interest in searching for an explanation.

Having secured his election as governor, Secretary of State Brian Kemp resigned, and the exiting Nathan Deal appointed Robyn Crittenden as Kemp’s temporary replacement. She gave way to the newly elected Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. All three Republicans were uniformly incurious about the vanished votes -- which isn’t a surprise, given that the potential number of missing ballots approached Duncan’s margin of victory – and November’s results were already caustic enough.

Nearly two years later, an explanation – at least in theory – has surfaced that could account for those missing 2018 votes. From our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

Georgia election officials said Saturday they found a programming error on the state's voting touchscreens that caused a row of candidates in the 21-person U.S. Senate special election to disappear at times when flipping back and forth between screens.

The problem will require reprogramming the state's 30,000 new touchscreens, called ballot-marking devices, about two weeks before in-person early voting begins Oct. 12.

Yes, the current machines are different than the ones used in 2018. But software is still software.

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Speaking of the upcoming election, DeKalb County is still having big problems that don’t bode well in the short term, the AJC’s Tyler Estep reports.

A consultant recently hired to help the DeKalb County elections office communicate with voters was on the verge of resigning Friday, saying county staff haven't provided enough support for him to do his job effectively.

The tumult comes days after a nonprofit brought in to help DeKalb with processing absentee ballots lodged similar complaints and had to be coaxed back into the fold.

It is just the latest issue that has elections board members concerned about the county's ability to run a smooth election in November.

“I am angry to the point of a pyroclastic flow that we have been offered help and I don't see the follow-through," board member Susan Motter said, comparing herself to a volcano.

“If you asked me right now whether or not I am confident we are ready, my answer is no."

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Over the weekend, the Rome News-Tribune published a pandemic-oriented Q&A with Gov. Brian Kemp. A taste:

Q: Your current executive order extends the public health state of emergency into October. What can we expect when that expires? And do you anticipate any further extensions?

Kemp: I wouldn't expect that to be expiring any time soon, until we get a vaccine and start getting some sort of herd immunity or the infection rate gets so low that we're not concerned with that.

It gives Dr. Toomey and our administration a lot of tools to do things very quickly, and to do things that, quite honestly, we just need... So, along with testing, contact tracing, kind of the expense side of things, there's a lot of really good reasons to keep the public health state of emergency into the near future. So I wouldn't want to predict when that's going to end. It's been very helpful to us.

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A mournful passage in a Washington Post piece on the muzzling of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“The worst is the silence," said the [anonymous] CDC scientist. “You can't explain what's going on, correct mistakes, clarify things quickly before they spin up and out of control."

Briefings must be approved by officials at HHS. By comparison, when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit the United States in spring 2009, the CDC held briefings almost every day for six consecutive weeks.

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Your two big D.C. stories from the weekend:

-- The New York Times reports that you probably paid more federal income tax than President Donald Trump did in 2016 and 2017.

-- According to Politico.com, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has begun mobilizing Democrats for the possibility that neither Joe Biden nor Trump will win an outright Electoral College victory, which would send the fate of the presidency to the House of Representatives to decide.

Individual votes wouldn’t count. The election would be decided by state delegations, and the GOP currently controls 26. Pelosi wants her colleague to focus on flipping a handful of House contests to fix that. Georgia’s delegation is now weighted 9-5 in the GOP’s favor. The only likely Democratic pick-up on Nov. 3 is the Seventh District seat now held by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville.

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The current U.S. Supreme Court vacancy makes the upcoming election even more important to voters in Georgia, according to a new poll by CBS News.

The poll found that most voters have already made up their minds about which presidential candidate to support, but the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes them more motivated to cast a ballot.

The same poll showed President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden remain in a dead heat in Georgia, with 47% of support and 46%, respectively. It found U.S. Sen. David Perdue ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff, 47% to 42%.

The poll, conducted by YouGov, has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Ginsburg seat quickly began a spate of partisan jockeying in Georgia. Read more here.

The Democratic National Committee is preparing to run this TV ad in metro Atlanta that ties Barrett to the Republican attempt via the courts to end Affordable Care Act protections.

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Greetings to The Current, a new investigative (and not-for-profit) news outlet with a focus on coastal Georgia. Ex-AJCer Margaret Coker is editor-in-chief.

One of the site’s first reports is a two-month probe of a 2008 school choice program that provides state tax credits as a means of private school scholarships. Oversight, it seems has been scanty:

Christian International Counseling & Ministries, an SSO headquartered in suburban Atlanta, reported awarding $704,740 in scholarships last year. But the organization didn't mention that its president is facing up to 20 years in prison for a global hacking and investment fraud scheme.

Arkadiy Dubovoy, a Ukranian-American and devout Christian, used altered financial documents and paid hackers in Ukraine to steal financial press releases that he leveraged to make insider stock trades. His ring of securities traders targeted Home Depot, Panera Bread Co., Hewlett-Packard, and Caterpillar among other companies, according to federal prosecutors.

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Dozens of metro Atlanta restaurants are among the roughly 100,000 establishments nationwide that shuttered during the pandemic, and the industry is again asking the federal government to intervene. More from the AJC’s Ligaya Figueras:

On Friday, National Restaurant Association board chair and Louisiana restaurateur Melvin Rodrigue stood before the House Ways and Means Committee to urge Congress to take action before adjourning until November.

“If Congress adjourns without extending the Paycheck Protection Program or providing other enhanced relief, more restaurants will close, more employees will lose their jobs and the pandemic economic crisis will deepen," Rodrigue testified. “What restaurants and their employees need is targeted help for the nation's second-largest private sector employer."

Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer voiced similar sentiments. “The time is now for government to step in to assist these restaurants that are the backbone of our communities," Bremer said Friday. “The restaurant industry provides many avenues for success for many people in our country by providing entry-level jobs, a pathway to leadership for minorities and other disenfranchised groups."

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In endorsement news: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing the re-election of U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, in this November’s First District congressional contest.