Behind the scenes of Georgia’s 2022 midterms
This fall, Atlanta Documenters—residents paid and trained to report on public meetings—have attended local elections board meetings across the metro. Their goal was to help us understand how our elections work.
They have personally documented how elections staff train poll workers, educate voters, and generally make the process run smoothly. As one Fulton election board member said to staff, “There’s things that get into the headlines . . . but it’s the day-to-day stuff that y’all have to do that is really the complicated stuff, and when we don’t hear about it, it means you did your job well, so thank you.”
But Documenters have also noted things that get into the headlines: Questionable claims about election integrity and systemic voter fraud constantly show up in our local public meetings. As a result, Georgia is once again a focal point of scrutiny in how we as a nation vote and run our elections.
Below, we break down some of the big themes emerging at our local election boards as we head into Election Day.
MEETINGS AROUND THE METRO
In September, a Fulton County employee sent poll workers’ personal information—including social security numbers—to an email address outside of the government. The breach didn’t include any voting or election information, and Fulton County elections staff said it was an isolated incident and responded accordingly. The County emailed affected poll workers, offered them credit monitoring, and is working with Fulton County Information Technology to protect their information moving forward.
Last month, the DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections controversially opted to continue its relationship with Konnech, a software company that DeKalb contracted to store data around poll workers and maintain inventory of poll equipment. In August, Konnech’s CEO was arrested under allegations that, in violation of their contract, Los Angeles County poll workers’ data had been stored on servers in China instead of the United States. (No DeKalb information related to ballot or voter information is stored as part of the Konnech contract.) Despite multiple public commenters who urged DeKalb BRE to end the contract, the board instead amended the agreement to ensure any personal poll worker information would be stored on servers controlled by DeKalb County.
DOCUMENTER NOTES: DeKalb, Oct. 21 / Gwinnett, Oct. 19 / Fulton, Oct. 13 / Cobb, Oct. 10 / Gwinnett, Oct. 3 / Fulton, Sept. 28 / Gwinnett, Sept. 21 / Cobb, Sept. 12
WATCH THE MEETING: DeKalb, Oct. 21 / Gwinnett, Oct. 19 / Fulton, Oct. 13 / Cobb, Oct. 10 / Gwinnett, Oct. 3 / Fulton, Sept. 28 / Gwinnett, Sept. 21 / Cobb, Sept. 12
Across Metro Atlanta, county election boards have considered thousands of challenges to voter eligibility, just weeks before the November 8 election.
The challenges have grown due to a state law passed last year, SB 202. Among other changes, the law allows any voter to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of others in their county. Most county election boards have found no probable cause to move ahead with the challenges.
Over the last two months, the Gwinnett County elections board dismissed roughly 37,000 challenges filed by a conservative leaning group of residents, after staff randomly sampled registrations and found the voters were accurately eligible. In Cobb County, the elections board rejected 111 challenges filed by a Marietta resident to voters whose addresses were missing apartment unit numbers. “It really kinda begs the question, do these people really even exist?” the challenger said. DeKalb’s elections board was presented with unsourced spreadsheets identifying challenged voters and PDFs from a partisan website; they rejected the challenges for lack of probable cause.
Voters whose registrations are challenged must appear before a hearing before casting a ballot. But, with many challenges being filed just before the election, holding such hearings are not feasible. Instead, depending on the county, voters who show up to the polls either need to have a poll worker verify their residence or cast a provisional ballot. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week that some voters have faced complications at the polls due to challenged eligibility.
Handling the challenges has put even more stress on poll workers and election officials to prepare for next week’s election, recognize residents’ election integrity concerns, protect voter rights, and follow the law.
Fulton County elections board chair Cathy Woolard summed up what the process has been like: “I am sincerely hoping the [state] General Assembly will see how each county is trying to manage these things on their own and offer some consistent guidance for all of us. . . . Every county is doing as best they can.”
Gwinnett County is experiencing a poll worker shortage. Two weeks ago the county still needed nearly 600 positions out of 1,800, mainly check-in and monitoring clerks who “help smooth the voter experience on Election Day,” said Elections Supervisor Zach Manifold. That gap is closing, though Manifold says that Gwinnett still needs a couple hundred more poll workers.
Gwinnett elections staff had logged dozens of hours this fall attempting to verify even a sample of the 37,000 challenged voter registrations filed in late August. Manifold told the Guardian last month, “It definitely pulls resources from other things that we’re definitely starting to ramp up for the upcoming elections.”
In October, the Fulton County Registration and Elections Board gave a budget briefing, showing how the cost of elections statewide has substantially increased. For example, voting machine costs appear to have increased from about $4,000 in 2019 to $130,000 this year.
Board chair Cathy Woolard called the increase “mind-boggling,” and said she would like to see how much of the cost increase is due to implementing the provisions of SB 202. She added that some decisions, such as buying voting machines, are up to the state: “We’re going to do whatever the state tells us to do, but you saw it on the chart—the increase in cost to Fulton County taxpayers on some of these decisions is very, very high.”
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- DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections (10/21/2022): Board considers whether there is enough probable cause for more challenges to voter eligibility / By Meggan Kaiser
- Gwinnett County Board of Registrations & Elections (10/19/2022): Board continues to deal with voter challenges, and adopts a form that challenged voters must fill out at the polls / By Nicki Cooper and Stefany Sanders
- DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections (10/13/2022): The county discusses poll worker staffing / By Jose E. Lopez Boy Jr.
- Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections (10/13/2022): Approval of an elections audit, deferral of voter challenges, and struggles with rising elections costs / By Jane Zoellick
- Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration (10/10/2022): Dismissal of more voter challenges; and an explanation of a “Last Call” program for absentee ballots / By Johnny Kauffman
“Just missing an apartment number does not mean that they’re not a resident of Cobb County.”
— Cynthia Battles, director of policy and engagement with the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda
IN CONTEXT: Battles said this at the Cobb County election board’s October 10 meeting, in response to a Marietta resident who challenged the eligibility of 111 voters living in large buildings with multiple units. At issue was how some of the addresses were incomplete and did not appear to have unit numbers attached to them. Documented by Johnny Kauffman.
Here are the meetings where local election boards plan to certify their results. Please check the county websites in advance to confirm the time.
Cobb County: Tuesday, November 15 at 3:00 p.m.
Clayton County: Monday, November 14 at 4:30 p.m. (in-person only)
DeKalb County: Monday, November 14 at 12 p.m.
Fulton County: Monday, November 14 (time TBD)
Gwinnett County: TBD (will be posted here)
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