Bibb election officials say 36 voted in wrong districts; state investigating

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 4, 2013 

Bibb County’s election problems are worse than originally thought, with 36 people from five districts voting for candidates in the wrong district.

Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson said Wednesday that in addition to the 17 District 2 residents who cast the wrong ballots, another 19 residents from four other districts also voted using the wrong ballots.

In all, 1,274 of the county’s roughly 90,830 registered voters were placed in the wrong districts, Watson said. Early voting already is underway for the first elections of the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.

Jared S. Thomas, spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, said the state has launched an investigation into the situation, but his organization’s focus is on making sure the election goes as smoothly as possible. Bibb County officials are working well with the state, he said.

Thomas said the “sole focus is to make sure the Macon election is safe and secure as possible.” The investigation likely will conclude after the Sept. 17 election and could be referred to the State Elections Board. Such investigations are routine and can help the state and other governments learn from problems.

Watson said the Bibb County Board of Elections has been checking and rechecking district assignments.

Last week, Watson announced that 17 of 788 District 2 voters who were placed in the wrong district had cast ballots in the wrong district. Wednesday, she said three of 96 wrongly districted District 6 residents had cast ballots, as well as 16 of the 390 wrongly districted voters in Districts 4, 7 and 9. A breakdown of those voters was not available Wednesday.

“I believe we’ve got the majority of the wrinkles worked out,” Watson said. “I’m glad we caught them early on.”

Thomas said a similar situation happened in Fulton County.

“I wouldn’t say it’s unprecedented, but certainly we and Macon-Bibb recognize when even one voter is not in the correct district, it’s a problem and that needs to be fixed,” Thomas said. “It is my understanding that each voter is in the correct district right now.”

The Board of Elections is working with new state software and has some new administrators. Watson said she’s working with the county’s geographic information system to create more layers of verification.

Last week, City Councilwoman and District 3 candidate Elaine Lucas called on the elections board to suspend the election and hire independent investigators.

“I am asking that the election be halted immediately and the entire voters’ list be reviewed to ensure that registered voters are indeed voting in the correct district,” Lucas wrote in a letter. She faces former Bibb County school board member Terry Tripp in the District 3 race.

Lucas called for the election to be moved to November.

Lucas’ challenge to the election is not the only one. Councilman Henry Gibson, who is not running in the election, lost a challenge to District 9 candidate Al Tillman’s residence in a 4-0 vote of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections. Gibson’s appeal of that challenge moves to Bibb County Superior Court on Friday. Councilman James Timley also is running for the District 9 commission seat.

The Sept. 17 election date was established by a federal judge, who ruled on a federal lawsuit filed by District 4 candidate Mallory Jones III. The election was supposed to have been held in July, but that became impossible because the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t pre-clear the election in time under the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has since struck down parts of that law as unconstitutional.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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