Local Election Errors Exposed

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Habersham county’s primary election made national headlines over the summer after ballots in several precincts didn’t add up and many voters realized they had voted in the wrong race altogether. County officials conceded on Wednesday there will likely be a new State House Primary election in November.

Anywhere from dozens to hundreds of voters in Habersham County were told to vote in the wrong district. Some District 28 voters received a ballot with the single name of State Rep. Terry Rogers, who ran unchallenged in the District 10 primary, instead of the two candidates running in their district. Some of Roger’s constituents mistakenly voted in the District 28 race.

“It’s pretty mind-boggling,” Rep. Rogers told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “The main concern I have, no matter what the number of votes, … is that I don’t want to see anybody disenfranchised. We need to make certain we do everything we can to get it straight as soon as possible.”

State Rep. Dan Gasaway of Habersham’s District 28, who lost the May primary by 67 votes, filed a lawsuit in June demanding a redo. Arguments were scheduled to be heard by a Fulton County Superior Court judge on October 12, in time for the election to be included in the November primaries, if the judge so decided.

“This is not a routine election contest case,” Gasaway said. “Both Mr. Kemp and the Habersham Elections Board have admitted that administrative errors were made affecting more voters than decided the election.”

Named in the suit are Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, Habersham County Board of Elections Supervisor Laurel Ellison and Gasaway’s District 28 primary opponent, Chris Erwin. Erwin said he’s not convinced that the voting errors would have changed the outcome of the election.

“In the unlikely event of a special election, I will be ready to run and win again,” Erwin told Now Habersham earlier this month. But now that Habersham County has conceded a significant number of voters were affected, a new election will likely be ordered.

Many voters complained. Some had been unaware there was a problem with their voter registration which sent them to the wrong precinct or issued the wrong ballot, until they received a notification from Habersham County explaining the mix-up. Eight days after the botched election, on May 30, Kemp ordered an investigation into the Habersham primary. But the next day he certified the results, seemingly legitimizing Erwin’s win.

Gasaway’s attorney Jake Evans contends he obtained figures through an open records request which show 73 people voted in the wrong House primary in Habersham on May 22, enough to potentially change the outcome.

“We concede that errors were made,” Habersham County Commission Chairman Victor E. Anderson said Wednesday. “Initially, it appeared that the number of votes impacted was less than the margin in this extremely close election.”

Anderson told the AJC in July that repeated changes to district lines could explain why voters received the wrong ballots. In a press release Wednesday, he said that Habersham County is calling for a new election, and he is asking the other two counties in the House District, Banks and Stephens counties, to hold new elections as well.

These discrepancies are among many cited in a federal lawsuit filed by election security activists, as public concern about the security of Georgia’s voting systems swells.

“This should concern everyone,” Gasaway said. “It is the constitutional responsibility of the county to make sure voter rolls are accurate.”