At least four Fulton County cities have discovered thousands of voters in the wrong districts or, in some cases, in the wrong city, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned. Hundreds more voters could be missing from the rolls altogether.
Unless the voter lists get corrected, ballots could be cast improperly for the wrong council seats, casting doubt on the winners of close races and costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars through recounts and costly litigation. Legitimate voters could be told by precinct workers that their names aren’t in their records, creating long lines, forcing them to use paper ballots and requiring them to prove where they live before their votes can be counted.
There’s still time to make necessary fixes, though, as the department faces intense scrutiny from state and county leaders to reverse years of embarrassments. Early voting starts in six weeks, and Fulton will run mayoral and city council elections for Atlanta and nine other cities, plus races for the Atlanta school board.
Similar discrepancies caused problems for Fulton during last year’s primary, when nearly 700 voters in Sandy Springs and southwest Atlanta cast ballots in the wrong state Senate and state House races, and in November, when slow processing of voter registration required Fulton to use more paper ballots than the rest of the state combined.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office has opened investigations into last year’s mismanagement, the culmination of years of blunders as the county went through multiple elections directors.
“We’re, right now, in the process of making sure everything’s accurate,” said new Fulton Registrations and Elections Director Rick Barron, who has been working since mid-June to overhaul the troubled department. “I would say shortly, within the next two weeks, we’re going to have the voter registration database as accurate as possible.”
State law requires counties running municipal elections to send voter lists to cities at least three weeks ahead of time for verification purposes. Barron said his office sent the lists about a month ago, before making adjustments for redistricting, which happens every 10 years to account for population changes.
Fulton will receive about $1.5 million to $2.5 million to run the polls for the cities and Atlanta school board.
Fulton, Georgia’s most populous county, was the last to plug into a new statewide voter database that makes redistricting changes. Barron said he wanted to get started working with the cities to make sure the lists are accurate.
But some of the discrepancies discovered by the cities point to wider problems with the county’s messy voter registration database, which a hired consultant criticized last year. Elections expert Gary Smith, in a report to members of the elections oversight board, said cleaning up that data should be the department’s top priority.
Roswell, for example, has only at-large council seats that aren’t affected by redistricting. Still, city officials found more than 2,000 voters on its rolls who live on 51 streets that aren’t in the city.
Alpharetta found 250 people registered at business addresses or at addresses apparently not in the city. Close to 1,900 other addresses might be missing from the rolls, and they’re concentrated in densely populated pockets of the city.
“Some of these are very large, established neighborhoods,” Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said, “and to not have a single registered voter in them — very suspect.”
East Point found about 500 people registered in the wrong wards and a few voters’ addresses that were outside city limits, City Clerk Agnes Goodwine said. She’s advising residents to wait two weeks before checking their status on the state’s voter database in order to give the county time to catch up.
Atlanta City Clerk Rhonda Johnson said she’s waiting for a corrected list from the county, and she didn’t know how many errors the first list had.
So far, Sandy Springs, metro Atlanta’s second-largest city, is reporting the most widespread problems. More than 4,000 people — or 6 percent of the city’s registered voters — are in the wrong districts, according to the city’s analysis. More than 800 people are apparently at nonexistent addresses or live outside the city.
“It’s almost like somebody was incompetent or inept,” Sandy Springs Mayor Pro Tem Tibby DeJulio told Channel 2 Action News. He faces challenger Clayton Cole in November, and the city found more than 350 who could have voted in the race who shouldn’t, and more than 1,100 voters who should be in the race placed in another district.
“A voter has the absolute right to know when they’re going to the polls,” DeJulio said, “that they’re voting for the representative who represents them.”