Saturday, January 16, 2021

Oconee County Results In Jan. 5 Runoff Show Why Absentee Ballots Are Focal Point In Discussion Of Election Law Changes

***Board Of Elections And Registration Certified Jan. 5 Results***

In voting for the Jan. 5 runoff, fewer than one in four of the 23,565 Oconee County voters who cast a ballot did so on election day, according to the official election results certified by the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration early Tuesday evening.

Nearly six in 10 of the voters participated in early in-person voting, and nearly two in 10 voted by absentee ballot.

Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue got 68.9 percent of the overall vote in the county on Jan. 5, and eventual statewide winner Democrat John Ossoff received 31.1 percent.

Perdue got 79.7 percent of the vote on election day and 71.6 percent of those voting advanced in-person, however, he received only 46.4 percent of the absentee ballot vote.

That pattern also held in the second U.S. Senate race on Jan. 5 and in the race for Public Service Commissioner.

And the pattern held on Nov. 3, when President Donald Trump, who ended up with 65.9 percent of the vote in the county, got only 46.7 percent among those who cast an absentee ballot.

These discrepancies–which were statewide--are at the heart of debate in the General Assembly now meeting in Atlanta on proposed changes in state elections laws, with focus on absentee balloting and, to a lesser extent, on advanced in-person voting.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the General Assembly, said he has not been involved in shaping any legislation but is aware of concerns about absentee ballots and the new voting machines and “will thoroughly review any bills addressing these concerns.”

Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives, have been unwilling to respond to a question about changes they think need to be made in the state's laws regarding elections.

Board of Elections Meeting

During the Board of Elections and Registration meeting on Tuesday, Kirk Shook, the Republican Party representative to the five-member Board, asked Fran Leathers, Board chair and director of Elections and Registration for the county, if there had been any problems with absentee balloting for the Jan. 5 election.

Shook, Left,
Ken Davis, Leathers

Leathers and Assistant Director Jennifer Stone said there had been only a few problems that had been resolved easily.

Stone told me in an email-massage on Friday that over the course of the runoff, the Board of Elections and Registration office sent 12 “cure affidavits” to voters who had submitted ballots either missing a signature or for which there was a signature that did not match the one on file.

Voters are given the chance to sign the affidavit, swearing “under penalty of perjury that I am registered and qualified to vote” in the runoff and that “I previously requested, completed, and returned an absentee by mail ballot.”

The voter also is required to provide one of a list of identifications, such as a driver’s license.

Stone told me that six of the 12 challenged absentee ballots were “cured,” two voters returned the ballot but did not provide a photo identification “as is required when issuing a cure affidavit,” one person voted in person, and three “never returned anything.”

At the meeting on Tuesday, Leathers said the county had issued 5,172 absentee ballots, 4,388 had been returned, 471 had cancelled, and 313 were labeled as “outstanding.”

Leathers also said that her office was still receiving absentee ballots, though the deadline has passed. She said the office had received two that day that had been postmarked the 14th and 15th of December.

Leathers also said the county had three people vote provisionally on election day, but only one of them was counted. That person simply had come to the wrong precinct. One was registered in Fulton County and the other had not registered by election day.

Emails, Texts To Legislators

I sent a note to the personal and to the state email addresses of Cowsert, Gaines, and Wiedower on Jan. 8.

“I am reading many stories about proposals for changes in the state's elections laws when the legislature meets,” I wrote. “At this point, what changes, if any, do you think need to be made in the state's laws regarding elections?”

I followed with a text message on Jan. 9.

“I have also heard many constituents concerns about a lack of confidence in the security of our election process,” Cowsert wrote back on Jan. 10. “ Most concerns focus on the mail in voting process and a desire to verify the security and reliability of the new voting machines and software.

“I have not personally been working on any legislation concerning election law reforms and have not seen any specific proposals from other Senators but will thoroughly review any bills addressing these concerns,” Cowsert wrote.

On Jan. 11, I sent this followup message to Gaines and Wiedower: “I just wanted to try once again to get you to respond to my question about what changes, if any, you think need to be made in the state's laws regarding elections?”

I have not received a response from Gaines or Wiedower.

Proposals put forward by Republicans would place new restrictions on absentee balloting.

I had written Wiedower late on Dec. 10 on another matter, saying “I was told you were in DC last week for the electoral college certification protest. What can you tell me about the experience?”

“Lee, that is inaccurate,” Wiedower wrote back on the afternoon of Dec. 11. “I was briefly In DC on Tuesday morning for an unrelated matter which did not involve any duties related to my role in the General Assembly. It was quiet, cold and overcast.”

The protest was on Wednesday of last week.

Vote Comparisons

In the Jan. 5 election certified by the Board of Elections and Registration on Tuesday, voter turnout was 77.4 percent, and 24.2 percent voted In-Person on election day, 57.2 percent voted Advanced In-Person, and 18.6 percent voted via absentee ballot.

Click To Enlarge

For the Nov. 3 election, turnout was 84.5 percent, and only 14.0 percent voted In-Person on election day, 62.9 percent voted Advanced In-Person, and 23.1 percent voted via absentee ballot.

As already noted, Perdue did much better with Election Day and Advanced In-Person Voting than he did with Absentee By Mail voting. Ossoff would have won in Oconee County if only Absentee Ballots had been counted.

The picture in the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock is the same. Loeffler won the race in Oconee County with 68.2 percent of the vote, but Warnock got 54.5 percent of the vote cast by absentee ballot. Warnock won statewide.

Even in the Public Service Commission race between Republican incumbent Lauren Bubba McDonald Jr. and Democrat Daniel Blackman, Blackman won the Absentee By Mail ballots but lost overall because of the votes on election day and advanced in-person. McDonald won statewide.

The picture was the same in November, when President Trump won handily in the county but actually lost to Democrat Joe Biden among the absentee ballots cast.

March 16 Election

In other action at the Board of Elections and Registration Board meeting on Tuesday, the Board approved the resolution of the Oconee County Board of Education calling for a special election on March 16 for continuation of the 1 percent Education Local Option Sales Tax.

Click To Enlarge

The resolution and ballot language also authorizes the Board of Education to borrow up to $42,950,000 against revenue from that tax for school projects. A third middle school at the site of the Dove Creek Elementary School is planned.

The current five-year ELOST expires on Dec. 31 of 2022. The maximum amount to be collected with the proposed tax is $48.5 million.

Leathers told members of the Elections Board that early voting will begin on Feb. 22 for the ELOST referendum and run for three weeks.

Absentee ballot applications will be processed locally, she said, and the request that voters made in 2020 for a full year of absentee ballots has expired.


The video below is of the Jan. 12 meeting of the Board of Elections and Registration.

The recording was made by Stone as a backup to the live-streaming of the meeting.

I lent Stone the camera for the recording as well as a tripod to use in the livestreaming.


Vicki Krugman said...

Excellent journalism Lee. Thank you

Unknown said...

Lee, I sincerely appreciate everything you do, especially since the largest government agency in Oconee refuses to livestream their public meetings.

Lee Becker said...

This is just a reminder of my request that those offering comments make sure their full, actual, name appear with the post. A good strategy is to simply retype it at the end.
Lee Becker