Photo Credit: Savannah Cole/file
A single Winterville voting machine is at the center of a congressional investigation into potential mischief in last year’s election, but the local election supervisor says there is no chance anyone hacked or tampered with the machine.
The AJC obtained thousands of pages of documents the state has turned over to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is looking into a mysterious dropoff in the number of people who voted in the lieutenant governor’s race. While it’s not unusual for some people to stop voting before they reach the end of the ballot, as the candidates become less well-known and the offices more obscure, the number of votes cast generally keeps dropping from top to bottom. In this case, 80,000 people skipped over the lieutenant governor’s race, then resumed voting in other down-ballot races.
Among the questionable results: On a single voting machine in Winterville—Kemp’s home precinct—Republicans won every race. On Winterville’s five other voting machines, Democrats won every race (as would be expected in left-leaning Athens-Clarke County). The AJC quoted a statistician as saying that the odds of that happening are one in a million.
After the article appeared, Jesse Evans, a member of the ACC Board of Elections, asked Director of Elections and Voter Registration Charlotte Sosebee for an explanation, which she provided via email. Three board members—Allison McCullick, Patricia Till and chairman Charles Knapper—pronounced themselves satisfied with the explanation and voted to keep the issue off the agenda at a Sept. 3 meeting, over the objections of Evans and Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, who wanted to discuss it for the sake of transparency.
Then, Clarke County Board of Education member Greg Davis and local Democratic Party official Gabriel Shippy brought up the issue during public comment. “To say I’m aghast would be an understatement,” Shippy said. “More importantly, I’m terrified about the state of our democracy.”
Sosebee said she was caught off guard and misquoted by the AJC reporter, who called her on her personal cell phone while she was at a conference. As she explained to the board, election officials don’t look at results from individual machines—as long as the number of voters in a precinct matches the number of votes cast, no red flags are raised. In the case of Winterville, 930 voters cast 930 votes. And no voters complained that their votes were “flipped” or cast incorrectly.
Before every election, each machine is tested and calibrated, then sealed and stored in a secure warehouse. The seals are checked before the machines are deployed on Election Day. Sosebee invited the public to watch the testing process for the upcoming SPLOST and City of Winterville elections in November, which will take place at 10 a.m. Sept. 23 at 2555 Lexington Road. Knapper also suggested that board members watch the process.
“I want to make sure our voting results reflect the will of the community,” Evans said.
Another issue that generated discussion was the removal of 395 felons from the voting rolls in August after none had been removed the previous month. Sosebee said the voter registration office had not been checking voter rolls against Department of Corrections records for several months as the secretary of state’s office sorted through issues related to House Bill 316, which authorized new voting machines and updated voting regulations. Felons are prohibited from voting in Georgia until their sentences end.
The board also discussed publishing the names of voters who are about to be removed from the rolls for inactivity. If a voter doesn’t vote in two consecutive general elections, he or she is placed on the “inactive list” and sent a letter asking them to contact the voter registration office if they still live in Georgia. Those people are still eligible to vote for a period of time and are restored to active status if they do so. Evan suggested publishing the list as an additional way of contacting inactive voters, but other board members raised privacy concerns, so the proposal was tabled.