Cobb County Addresses June 9th Election Issues During 06/19/20 Meeting

cobb

Notes from Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration Meeting 06/19/20

Summary:

  • The public was invited to share their election experiences, multiple of whom citing they waited in line for 5-6 hours. issues with machine monitors and blame shifting of the state and county officials
  • Janine Eveler, Director of Elections and Registration, described the many issues that occurred on and leading up to the June 9th primary election such as the challenges with poll worker training and shortages in staff.
  • Board Member, Jessica Brooks, calls the Secretary of State’s decision not to send absentee ballot applications in the coming election an act of voter suppression.

Board of Elections Members Present:

  • Phil Daniel (Chairman)- Legislative Delegation Appointee
  • Fred Aiken (Vice Chairman)- Legislative Delegation Appointee
  • Jessica Brooks (Secretary)- Democratic Party Appointee
  • Neera Bahl (Asst. Secretary)- Republican Party Appointee
  • Darryl O. Wilson, Jr.- Commission Chairman Appointee
  • Janine Eveler- Director of Elections and Registration

For more information, contact Cobb BOER at (770) 528-2581. 

Meeting Notes from Attendee:

  • The virtual meeting was called to order at 12:04 pm.
  • Public Comments:
    • Ebony Barrett: she and her husband went to early voting on June 5th at Whitlock location. Arrived at 4:30 pm to vote, took 30 minutes to check in, were told to come back in 2 hours due to wait time, and that voting might take 5 hours.
      • Returned at 6-6:30 pm, waited until 10 pm, received no call to come vote, 11:30 pm told to come back later, returned at 12:30 am and were told that they had stopped calling people at 10:00 pm.
      • They were told that they had been the last people in line, but voter said that there were at least 50-100 people behind them that did not get to vote.
    • Babarita (full name not given in notes): She sent a visual via e-mail to the board this morning. They did not have access and the board was not able to let her share her screen.
      • She was reporting on the 5th district, but I couldn’t hear her well, but apparently it was a district that the board had already been notified of.
      • Mail in ballots are not being counted correctly by Dominion scanner. Tech problems statewide.
      • She is asking that all mail in ballots are counted manually prior to certification.
      • Adjudication software was not used by Cobb and therefore Cobb may lose several thousand votes.
    • Jacquie Bettadapur: Chair of Cobb County Democrats, started by commending Janine Eveler on her handling of the absentee ballots, 140K+ sent out, 106K+ returned and counted.
      • But, in person voting was another issue. 5-6 hours waiting to vote, precincts opening late, they had 3 months to prepare but failed, SOS blames the County, County blames the voters, “Buck stops where?”
      • Early voting was only available for a few days.
      • Voter suppression occurred in District 4, 39 precincts late, mostly in Democrat heavy precincts
      • Social distancing used as an excuse in large venues that could have had more machines, one report of an experienced monitor refusing to give someone a provisional ballot, ballots rejected for signature issues but no contact with voter made, absentee ballots not received in time, only 4 ballot boxes.
      • Jacquie ran over her allotted time and was cut off by the Chairman. She mentioned that she had reports from individuals regarding their voting experiences.
    • Priscilla Smith: Thanks for hard work fraught with difficulties. She monitored polling places on early voting day.
      • She also went on June 9th to a polling place in Congressional District 34, largely Republican, largely white district, and everything went smoothly.
      • Very concerned about what occurred elsewhere, admires voters who waited 5-6 hours.
      • She is running for District 34 as Democratic candidate and is therefore personally invested in future elections going well.
      • Need an emergency ballot as opposed to a provisional ballot when things go wrong. Need paper ballots.
    • Sharon Hill: Appreciates all of the hard work. She works with Georgia Coalition for People’s Agenda re: election protection.
      • She witnessed the long lines, late openings, tech issues. She wants to know how these issues are being addressed, especially in the southern districts that were hit the hardest with problems.
      • Need more drop boxes. Measures must be taken.
      • At Methodist Church in Powder Springs, machines didn’t work, poll manager deployed paper ballots, though most people wanted to wait for machines. Regardless, the poll manager’s quick response brought things back to running smoothly very quickly. Need to make paper ballots mandatory.
      • More education and training – younger poll workers not as well trained, no access to bathroom facilities during long waits, many never received absentee ballots.
    • Shea Allen: It was the first time she volunteered to work an election.
      • At Durham Middle School (Acworth), no wait. But at (Austell?) Community Center, she spent 10 hours volunteering there, not open at 10am, not enough equipment, high # of voters, 5-6 hour wait time in thunderstorms, only 3 poll workers, voters not in the system, denied vote because they didn’t have an absentee ballot to turn back in (because they hadn’t received it?).
      • 70+ year old voters waited 3+ hours, volunteers brought water or they wouldn’t have had any, feels intentional when there is no waiting at a nearby location with 6 workers and plenty of equipment.
      • Should be allowed to vote anywhere, experience needs to be the same statewide.
    • George Balbona: Pilot program experience in Cobb County last fall was great because they used paper ballots.
      • Current absentee ballot experience was abysmal – should use an online portal.
      • He mentioned an election supervisor named George Smith who he spoke with. Mr. Balbona went to Turner Chapel one hour after closing to see if poll tape was posted. Mr. Balbona then traveled to Redeemed Church of God, where he was (according to him) not welcome. The manager there called George Smith to have Mr. Smith “yell at me over the phone”. Mr. Smith said that it is required that a poll tape be posted outside (even in the rain). Mr. Balbona returned to Turner Chapel (where Mr. Smith had been working) to find the parking lot locked up and no poll tape posted.
      • Mr. Balbona mentioned 244 ballots placed in a box, unscanned, because of a jam.
      • Mr. Balbona submitted an Open Records Request regarding training records. He received a video from Janine Eveler in which the audio cut out part way through the video.
      • He said the board better not certify these results without checking the absentee ballots. The Secretary of State fixed nothing after the pilot.
    • Lisa Campbell: candidate for HD35, thanked everyone for hard work under current conditions.
      • She was concerned and dismayed. Voter rights are under attack in Georgia, purges, long lines, poor election oversight, destabilizing the process.
      • Only 8 weeks to run-off, do not shortchange planning for this run-off election and November election.
      • She wants to see a written plan, in advance of run-off, that addresses COVID, training, long wait time solutions, more early voting locations and dropboxes.
    • Denea Bryant: Austell voter, couldn’t believe the difference between white and black areas.
      • She got in line at 6:45 am and didn’t vote until 9:30 am.
      • She proceeded to read the Cobb BOE Mission Statement and said that the mission was not met.
      • Information about what was happening at the polling place was only communicated to the front of line. Not shared all the way down, so people left.
      • Blamed the voters. Folks who showed up after work waited 3+ hours to vote.

Director’s Report and Certification Report

  • Overview:
    • Janine Eveler explained to the board members what the documents that they had received were – Results of the March and June primaries, as well as a one-page election night report:
    • On June 9th, the first polling place reported at 8:30 pm- a Marietta precinct.
    • The last polling place reported at 2:30 am- Chattahoochee precinct.
    • Staff left between 3 and 3:15 am.
    • Six polls left memory cards at locations, and they had to be retrieved so information could be downloaded. New workers had difficulty understanding the proper procedure for closing polling places and what needed to be returned to the office.
    • The election board used the statute that allowed them to begin counting absentee ballots on June 1st. They have been counting for 18 days.
    • 518,216 eligible voters (36.25%)
    • 2098 provisional ballots cast; 1293 counted
    • 146,719 absentee ballots issued; over 107,000 returned; total 118,763 counted
    • Military ballots added to the total
  • Issues:
    • Janine feels her office did a great job handling absentee ballots. Cobb issued more ballots than every other county (except maybe Fulton).
    • In person voting: 3500 voters filled out an Affidavit to vote in person (when no ballot was returned). Of those, 788 said they never received their ballots. The remaining voters changed their minds and wanted to vote in person. Five boxes of surrendered ballots were collected at the polls. Polling places ran out of Affidavits but were able to make copies at their locations.
    • Social distancing: Voters were allowed to check-in and wait in cars. Calling/texting voters was never the intention and they would not do that again.
    • On the last Friday of advanced voting, there was a long line, complicated by the fact that the state system went down for routine maintenance from 11pm-1:30am. Some voters were issued incorrect ballots because they were working from a down system.
    • Cobb was luckier than most counties in that they only lost 2 polling places.
    • Cobb lost experienced workers due to COVID. 4-8 workers per location was not enough, working conditions were bad with few if any breaks, and no food or water. They tried to hire 1400 workers, but only got 1100, with many hired in the last two weeks before the election. Staff shortages were filled by county employees and new hires for managers. This led to a staff shortage in the office, which was overwhelmed by phone calls. Only one tech was assigned by the state to oversee the election. Cobb hired 12 more, but each one was assigned up to 19 polling places— three of them were new to the equipment. The Secretary of State says that a tech will be assigned to every polling place in November. Janine is not confident that this will happen.
    • Training challenges were significant. Supervisor resigned before the election. State supplied video, etc., but no coordination. Cobb did their own online training, but managers reacted with different procedures during emergencies. There were only 50 people left with training. Most had little training, consisting of PowerPoint and state video. This election equipment is multi-component and complicated. Documents produced by the state arrived late.
    • PPE: State initially said that counties should acquire their own PPE. Time and money that could have been spent on training was wasted here. State came up with supplies later, but the county already had acquired their own.
    • Poll pad issues: They are supposed to be updated with voter lists prior to the election. They worked from Friday through Sunday before the election to update, but unsuccessfully. Later they learned that they had insufficient bandwidth (which no one told them about) and insufficient infrastructure. Of the 144 precincts, 55 were not updated in time. They worked late Sunday until 3am on Monday before they were ready for distribution. There are over 7 million voter records.
    • Delivery of equipment: Multiple parts, added extra days for delivery, and only a certain number of systems would fit in a truck. Four drivers quit on Sunday afternoon, and County employees drove the trucks. One truck broke down on election day, and the last delivery was made at one am on Tuesday.
    • The previous system could be set up the night before because each unit was self-contained with legs and lockable— new units cannot be set up the night before for security reasons. Polling places were instructed to get one system up and running by 7am so that they could open on time, but many were unable to do so.
    • Polling locations are supposed to have one unit per each 250 voters, but they were unable to do so due to COVID-19 and social distancing. Voters said they would rather have more machines than worry about the pandemic, so they will add more units.
    • Poll pads were not working, having sticking issues, and receiving unknown messages with no instructions. Vendor said they would need special secure WiFi to access units to fix errors. County did not have those resources. 
    • Workers made card encoding errors related to unclear instructions about certain boxes to be checked. Printers were not being recognized by touch screen, power supply issues, poll pad connections failed. Workers need better training and instructions. 
    • Adjudication software was not used in Cobb because training did not take place until May 29th, so there was not enough time to use it.
    • Instructions kept changing— not sure if this was from the State or the Vendor.
  • End of Election Director’s report
  • Motion to certify election
    • Presented by Chairman Phil. Seconded.
    • No discussion by board members. 4 approved, 1 absent.
  • Approved minutes from June 9th meeting.
  • Board is aware and has had lots of discussions about what went wrong. Looking at the problems. Chairman stated that since election night, absentee ballots had been scanned, any rejected were done by hand, completed last night. There will be run-off elections, but Chairman doesn’t anticipate as many voters.
  • Vice-Chairman (Fred) commended Janine on her thorough report, and will work to remedy problems. He personally resents comments and implications of “shenanigans”, failure by design, and suppression mentioned by some of the public commenters. 
  • Board member Jessica – had not planned on making a public statement. She thanked everyone who attended the meeting and those who shared. A lot went wrong, responsibility began at the top, but problems at local level, too. Need resources for techs. SOS does not plan to send out applications for absentee ballots for next election. And, we must call it what it is – voter suppression, whether intentional or not. We are dealing with a lot in this current upheaval (financial, political, etc.), it’s a challenge to be me, and we can’t blame the voters.
  • Back to Chairman – August 11 is the date for the run-off election. Get the word out that lots of information can be found at cobbelections.org. Also go to My Voter Page to check on your voter information and status of ballots.
  • Next regular meeting
    • July 13, 2020 at 4 pm
  • Meeting adjourned at 1:20 pm

Did you know that the public can attend Board of Registration and Elections meetings? 

These meetings are open to the public by Georgia law. Georgia Open Meetings Act.

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