MARIETTA — Cobb’s elections board certified the results of Tuesday’s primary vote and acknowledged the need to get results made public sooner.
Board vice chairman Rob Garcia, who was acting as chairman during the Monday morning meeting because Beverly Smith was out sick, said he heard from some of those people who couldn’t understand why the Secretary of State’s website didn’t have results from Cobb sooner.
The ballot included such major votes as the proposed TSPLOST transportation sales tax referendum; and in partisan races, GOP candidates for county chairman and Democratic contests for the southwest Cobb commission seat.
“Cherokee County was at 67 percent reported before we had the first votes uploaded,” Garcia said. “I got a lot of smart-alecky emails saying, ‘Are you counting those by hand?’”
Elections director Janine Eveler said the first results were uploaded at 8:52 p.m. but couldn’t be seen online until after 9:30 p.m., nearly three hours after the polls were to close.
“Long story short, it did take us a lot longer than we would like to get that completed,” Eveler said. “We would hope that we would get it done sooner. We are going to try to look at some things … but there are certain limitations based on what we had to work with. As most business people will tell you, you can emphasize low cost, speedy delivery or high-quality product. We’re known in the state as having a very high-quality product. We do it right, and that’s what we emphasize.”
Eveler defended the delay in releasing early-voting results. She said that even though early voting ended July 27, the county can’t close those machines out until after polls close, because they can’t have results ahead of time. That meant that the early-voting results weren’t released until nearly 10 p.m.
Last Monday during a primary-night prep session for reporters, Michael Barnes, director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State, said results should start coming in shortly after 7 p.m.
“We’ve had counties in the past that get a results file pushed up to the state almost by 7:05 p.m.,” he said. “They’ve gotten a lot of their absentee already processed so they’re reading to start uploading right at 7 p.m. Normally by 7:15 you’ve got a few counties that are reporting.”
Eveler said that several other unexpected factors added to the delay. Sixty-five percent of Election Day voters cast their ballots after 3 p.m., includes a number of people who were in line at 7 p.m. and thus were allowed to vote.
“You’re looking at two-thirds of the voters in one-third of the time,” she said.
Eveler also said that while workers had tested the new statewide reporting system with the Secretary of State’s office, they had not done a test using partial results.
Then, when elections and registrations manager Beth Kish first looked at the partial results, they looked different than what workers were expecting, so the data was double-checked, adding another half hour.
Eveler said results of all votes, except for some of the nearly 6,000 mailed-in ballots, were online by midnight, but the mail-in ballots weren’t fully counted until 4:27 a.m., which is normal for a large county-wide election. Those paper ballots were hand-inserted into an optical scan machine.
She said the number of races on the ballot also contributed to the delay, with Cobb’s paper ballot being 18-inches long, compared to a 14-inch ballot for Gwinnett County.
“The longer ballot is harder for an optical scan to scan it, so there will be some that don’t process,” she said. “For each one that doesn’t scan, we have to reprint it onto a clean ballot … and that takes a lot longer when the ballot is 18 inches long.”
Eveler also said she believes Cobb had more mailed-in ballots than any other county in the state after reviewing detailed TSPLOST vote reports.
“Some things that are inherent to the primary will always impact the timing,” Eveler said. “In retrospect we probably should have gone over those things with the board so that you were more equipped to handle the phone calls that you got.”
Garcia said the most important lesson for future elections will be to get at least some results posted earlier.
“We’ve got to get some votes on the system,” he said.
Eveler also said that 194 of 314 provisional ballots that were cast were counted. The board then voted 4-0 to certify results, with Pat Gartland, Joseph Ransbotham and Guy Drexinger voting with Garcia.
Early voting for the Aug. 21 runoff elections will start Monday and continue through Aug. 17.
Republican races going to runoffs are the county chairman contest between Bill Byrne and incumbent Tim Lee; the Superior Court Clerk contest between Rebecca Keaton and John Skelton; and Cobb School Board Post 7 contest between Larry Darnell and Brad Wheeler.
Democratic contests going to runoffs are in the race for southwest Cobb commissioner between Lisa Cupid and incumbent Woody Thompson; and State House District 41, in south-central Cobb, between Diana Eckles and Michael Smith.
One non-partisan runoff, for a judicial seat on Cobb State Court, will be between Larry Burke and Marsha Lake.
Voters who cast ballots for the July 31 primary must cast the same party’s ballot in the runoffs, but voting in the primary is not a requirement for voting in a runoff.
One race that won’t be in the runoff is Cobb School Board District 5, where David Banks avoided a runoff by earning a sliver of a majority 7,478 votes (50.04%). Lisa Hanson, who finished in second place with 5,490 votes (36.74%) asked for a recount during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting.
But board attorney Gregg Litchfield said candidates can’t ask for a recount once the vote is certified, which the board had just done moment earlier. He told Hanson her only recourse would be to contest the election in Superior Court within five days.
Hanson said she had heard from two friends in her district who were given ballots listing state Rep. Don Parsons in the area’s House race, when they live in the area represented by Rep. John Carson. She said she had even seen her daughter’s ballot with the incorrect House race.
Eveler said it is the voter’s responsibility to notify her office if they receive an incorrect ballot before they turn it in. Once the ballot is mailed back to the elections office, it is considered “cast,” and can’t be reviewed.
“That’s a shame. That’s a shame,” Hanson said. “My daughter is a 20-year-old student at the University of Georgia. I looked at her ballot with her, we went through it name by name, and John Carson was not on her ballot.”
Litchfield questioned why Hanson’s daughter didn’t get a new ballot.
“You should have said, ‘Dear, don’t cast this ballot,’” he said.
After the meeting, Hanson and her campaign treasurer, Jim Phillips declined to comment on whether they will contest the election in court.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - News, Sports, Classifieds, Businesses in Marietta, GA