Nearly 800 residents have been listed in the incorrect district with both the Bibb County Board of Elections and state websites for the Sept. 17 election to choose the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.
Bibb County Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson confirmed Thursday that 788 voters were listed in District 2 when they should have been listed in District 3. Watson said she has spoken with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams about the situation, and elections officials had corrected the problem Thursday.
Besides the early voting issues, 20 absentee ballots containing incorrect voter information had already been sent out, said Jared Thomas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office. Thomas said the elections board already has sent letters to those people informing them of the error, along with correct ballots.
Thomas said ultimately it will be the Bibb County Board of Elections that determines what steps need to be taken to correct the situation. However, some residents already have cast ballots in the incorrect district during the early voting period.
Bibb County Board of Elections Vice Chairman Steve Allen said it was “an unfortunate thing,” but those votes can’t be taken back because the county doesn’t have the power to remove someone’s vote.
Macon City Councilwoman Nancy White, whose parents live across the street from her aunt and uncle off Gray Highway near Jones County, said those family members all live in District 3. While her parents ended up voting in the correct district -- despite having incorrect voter information cards and having to inform elections officials about the error -- her aunt and uncle were unaware of the issue and voted in the District 2 race.
“I had spoken to Jeanetta Watson (earlier this week), but the board of elections continued to let this error go unchecked,” White said. “(Early voting) should have been halted Wednesday morning. I’m terribly disappointed. This is very troubling for the candidates running for those offices.”
It was White who alerted fellow Councilman Larry Schlesinger that there was a potential problem. Schlesinger, who is running in the District 2 commission race against fellow Councilman Henry Ficklin and Paul Bronson, said Thursday he became aware of a potential issue Tuesday when White told him that her parents got a robocall from Ficklin’s campaign. Schlesinger told White he also was sending out robocalls.
Schlesinger checked with his campaign consultant, who confirmed that the calls were only supposed to go to District 2 residences. The consultant, Josh White, told Schlesinger he used information from the Secretary of State’s website to determine who lived in the district.
Thomas said it is currently an open investigation as to how the error occurred. He noted that the elections board self-reported the problem to the state. Officials are checking to see how many of the 788 affected voters have already cast ballots, but added a decision hasn’t been made on what will be done with the ballots.
Watson said early voting was continuing while officials worked to correct the issue. She said that 1,891 people already have voted through Wednesday during the early voting period.
Thomas and Allen said that similar issues occur every time there is redistricting. Thomas said there was a similar problem last year during Fulton County’s elections.
The other District 2 candidates were informed of the issue Thursday morning. Attempts to reach Ficklin were unsuccessful, but Bronson said he is hopeful the issue will soon be resolved.
Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who is running in the District 3 race, said she knows of a few people who have gotten the wrong ballots and voted. She said she’s working with attorneys to make sure the errors are caught and corrected. She said she hasn’t contemplated any legal action, but she wants to see the issue resolved soon. Lucas said she didn’t think the error was deliberate.
“We need to find out where folks are registered,” she said. “Right now, there is a lot of confusion. People don’t have the right cards or are under the impression they should be voting in a different district. I’m in favor of making these votes provisional and look at the ballots. There needs to be something done immediately.”
Lucas’ opponent, former Bibb County Board of Education member Terry Tripp, didn’t know of the situation early Thursday afternoon. She said there wasn’t anything she could do about it.
“I trust and believe the board of elections is going to correct things,” she said. “It’s out of my hands.”
A different districting issue was corrected by the elections board before early voting took place. Residents of the Magnolia Manor senior housing -- where Allen’s mother-in-law lives -- received voting cards informing them that they were in District 5. However, the manor is located in District 9. While the cards were wrong, Allen said their names were listed in the computers in the correct district. Allen said elections officials informed residents by letter of the error before early voting began Monday.