As one of six counties chosen for a trial run with Georgia’s new Dominion Voting Systems hardware this fall, Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said the local community wasn't without its fair share of technical hiccups during the pilot period.
To begin, he said there was an issue with the local database, which was corrected ahead of Election Day.
“We had a separate security key for one of the polling places,” Kirk said at Friday afternoon's Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration public meeting. “We’re still investigating what issue occurred.”
Elsewhere, Kirk said scanners at two locations jammed — one at the Cartersville Civic Center during the advanced voting period, and one at the City of White polling place on Election Day.
In the case of the latter, Kirk chalked it up as an “anomaly,” while the former was diagnosed as a “mechanical failure” in the scanner itself.
“After we replaced it, we didn’t see any other issues,” Kirk said of the device used in Cartersville.
“A few voters were briefly delayed as a result of that first time it happened. We had a procedure available for them not to be delayed, they were happy to wait for me to get there and try to correct it where they could vote through the scanner like everybody else. Unfortunately, that effort was not successful in the end.”
That scanner, he said, is still awaiting examination by Dominion Voting Systems technicians.
Kirk said there were also several instances of scanners simply not accepting ballots.
“It would bounce back out,” he said. “We’re not sure if that’s an issue with how the ballots were inserted into the system or if it was something else, and again, that’s being looked into — but when the voters put the ballot back into the scanner, it read it, no problem.”
On at least five separate incidents, Kirk said the County’s ballot marking tablets “went dark” — albeit, without causing any major delays as a result.
“In, I think, two cases, we rebooted them and continued to use them until it happened again,” he said. “And the other instances, we had plenty of machines up and running — we just took it down until it was time to close the polls.”
While several of the pilot counties reported issues with poll pads, Kirk said the technical issues in Bartow weren’t quite as severe as elsewhere in the state.
“We had at least one pad up and and running at every polling place, and the ones that weren’t up and running, the vendor was able to correct that issue right around 8 o’clock,” he said.
AUDITS AND REJECTED BALLOTS
Overall, Kirk said he was quite pleased by how the new voting equipment performed during Bartow’s municipal-level elections.
“Every poll worker was instructed to prompt the voters to review their ballots before they put them in the scanner,” he said. “When I was out at the polls observing, I did observe the voters reviewing their ballots.”
He said the total contract amount for the State’s new paper ballot-backed system came in at a little under $107 million.
On the whole, Kirk said poll workers and local voters alike seemed to prefer the new voting system — although there were some complaints about the process.
Some voters, Kirk noted, had concerns about the visibility of the much larger electronic touch pads.
“We’re going to adjust the way we put them in the polling place to try to increase privacy,” he said.
Other voters, he said, had complaints about the new poll pads being too low.
“I don’t know that we’re going to find a solution to that,” he said. “It may just be that we need to put a chair in front of them and get more poll pads because of that process taking longer than we thought it would.”
The State’s first risk-limiting audit using the new equipment took place in Bartow on Tuesday.
“We had help from a couple of different national organizations to do that, Verified Voting and VotingWorks,” Kirk said. “It really was a cool thing to see.”
Nor were there any issues with observers from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Unions, who were present at polling places throughout Bartow during the pilot run with the new equipment.
“That went very well here in Bartow,” Kirk said. “We had no complaints about anything they did, they all obeyed the rules properly and it was a very pleasant experience.”
As for “spoiled votes” — i.e., ballots that were damaged or marked in such a way as to make them ineligible for tabulation — Kirk said Bartow saw only a handful or so over the last election cycle.
“That’s less than I expected, so that’s nice,” he said. “In one case, it was because the voter changed their mind, in other cases because the ballot was damaged for some reason, or otherwise unusable.”
Meanwhile, Bartow County Assistant Elections Supervisor Cheryl Billard said that at least three provisional ballots were not counted. One involved a Cartersville voter who had three days to bring in identification — but did not — while another involved a Euharlee voter who registered after the cutoff date twice.
“We had a gentlemen who didn’t realize he had to be off of probation completely in order to be a registered voter,” Billard said of the third rejected ballot. “So he cast a provisional ballot — he’s requested now that we’ve put that up that we do not process that registration and go ahead and reject that outright.”
Kirk said there was also an instance of the wrong ballot being issued during the advanced voting period.
“It was in the City of Cartersville, no contested race was left off that ballot, but I will address that with the employee moving forward to be sure that that person is verifying and issuing the proper ballot,” he said. “Whenever there’s human input, there might be human error.”
While the turnout for the municipal-level elections was fairly low, Kirk said he’s not expecting such anemic numbers when the presidential primaries roll around this spring.
“The more we can do to educate the public on how the system operates, the better off we’re going to be,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of them want to be educated right now — I figure about January, they’re going to get really interested in politics and really want to know how the system works.”
ELECTIONS RESULTS MADE OFFICIAL
The Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration also certified the results of Nov. 5’s municipal-level elections at the public meeting Friday afternoon.
Kirk noted there were virtually no changes to the official numbers since election night.
With absentee, provisional ballot and advanced voting numbers tabulated, Matt Santini cruised to reelection as Cartersville’s mayor, garnering 1,238 total votes. Challengers Nicole Butler and Barbara Jackson collected 248 votes and 57 votes, respectively, in the final tally.
Running unopposed at the ballots, incumbent councilmen Jayce B. Stepp, Calvin Cooley and Taff Wren received 269 votes, 106 votes and 116 votes, respectively. Three City of Cartersville School Board incumbents — Tim Chason (1,418 votes), Travis Popham (492 votes) and Sarah Broadnax (101 votes) — also ran unopposed.
By a 1,095-447 margin, City of Cartersville voters approved a “Sunday brunch” ballot item that would allow the City to roll back alcohol pouring hours from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m.
Roughly 11.3% of the City’s registered voters participated in the municipal elections earlier this fall.
Meanwhile, the City of Emerson saw a 12.69% turnout for its elections. The municipality’s only true race — initially, a three-man competition for two open city council seats — became decisively less competitive when candidate Corey Sanford dropped out shortly before Election Day, thus making incumbent Vincent Wiley (58 votes) and nominal challenger Charlie Lowry (86 votes) the victors by default.
Mayor Al Pallone, also running unopposed, received 93 votes. Emerson voters likewise approved a “Sunday brunch” ballot item, this by an 86-31 margin.
The final numbers for Euharlee show incumbent David Duncan (128 votes) and challenger Tim Abbott (111 votes) besting third-place candidate Michael W. Troxell (60 votes) in a race for two open city council seats. In total, just 6.7% of the municipality’s eligible voters cast ballots in the local election.
With 30% turnout, the City of White had the highest voting numbers out of any municipality in Bartow. The final, official numbers indicate incumbent Kim Dupree Billue defeated challenger David J. King 74 votes to 58, while incumbents Charles Buttrum (84 votes) and Ryan Evans (73 votes) topped challenger Norman Gary Crisp (66 votes) in a three-way race for two open council seats.
At Friday’s meeting, Kirk also addressed an incident that transpired at the City of White polling place on Election Day.
“One of the candidates was concerned and their people were concerned that there were candidates entering the polling place improperly during the day,” he said. “I’ve spoken with the poll worker, I’ve spoken with the folks involved and all I can determine is that there were candidates who entered the building without any campaign [apparel] on that used the bathroom — we give the poll manager discretion to allow that to happen, and they never entered the room where voting was taking place, they never interfered with the election in any way.”
But that doesn’t mean violations of State regulations didn’t happen.
“Because the other side was concerned about it, they were trying to call me and had the wrong phone number,” Kirk said. “So someone tried to go in and take pictures of evidence of wrongdoing, which, of course, is in violation of the election code.”
Since then, Kirk said he’s had some “follow-up questions” with the individuals involved in the incident.
“I’m confident the issue has been addressed as it stands right now,” he told the board. “But if you’d like to refer it to the State elections department, I’m happy to do that and I can write it all up and send it into an investigator.”