People pass a ballot box on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. The box is located outside the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections office along East Washington Street. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; @taylormckenzie_photo)

In its initial certified election results, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections did not count 119 ballots that it determined were cast legally. The ballots were discovered while preparing for a statewide audit and recount of the presidential election results that begins Friday, said elections director Charlotte Sosebee.

“Basically, our election is not really complete,” Sosebee said. “It’s not really complete until we do this. Thankfully, the audit process caught this.”

The ballots were tabulated during a recess in an emergency board meeting Thursday night, and the board recertified the election at the end of the meeting. The county initially certified its election results on Nov. 6.

Finding more ballots

While preparing for the audit, the board created a ballot manifest list that included the total number of ballots in its possession. The board found that the number of ballots did not match the vote total it submitted to the Secretary of State during election night reporting, Sosebee said.

On Nov. 11, election workers conducted a hand recount of all ballots received throughout the course of the election and found two batches of absentee ballots that had not been included in the results. One batch contained 49 ballots and the other contained 44, Sosebee said.

One of the batches was not scanned due to a bookkeeping error, and the other batch was scanned but did not appear in the batch reports in the county’s server. Sosebee said this was an anomaly that the board is discussing with Dominion Voting, who manufactures the voting machines used by the entire state in the election.

On Nov. 4, the board also discovered two overseas absentee ballots in a basket in its office that were legally postmarked before or on Election Day and needed to be included, Sosebee said.

On Tuesday, election workers went to ballot boxes to verify that they were empty, as the Georgia Election Board requires. One uncounted ballot was found in four of the county’s six ballot boxes, for a total of four uncounted ballots, Sosebee said.

The boxes were locked at 7 p.m. on election night, the same time that polls closed. They were not unlocked until workers went back to verify that they were empty, Sosebee said.

Solutions and planning for the future

Sosebee said the ballots could have been in the box on election night but election workers may have accidentally left them. She said it was also possible the ballots were dropped in the boxes after they were locked. The board has surveillance cameras at all locations and has been working to determine whether the ballots were dropped in after polls closed.

However, Sosebee said the board only had footage from one surveillance camera, and it was not able to immediately get footage from the other three locations.

The board reviewed the footage it had available and determined the vote was not cast after polls had closed. The board unanimously voted to accept that ballot along with two others from the dropboxes after board members were able to contact two of the voters involved, who told them when they had dropped off their ballots. The fourth ballot was from Virginia.

The board also discovered 21 additional uncounted absentee ballots that were still inside of their envelopes after counting, Sosebee said.

“I’m not sure what happened in the process,” Sosebee said. “I participated in this process in June, and there was no way for that to happen. So I don’t know what step they missed in this process.”

Sosebee said the board has already come up with solutions for each of these situations so it has cures ready “when this happens in the next election.”

In the future, Sosebee said all ballots will be opened during the early voting process on Election Day, and on the following day, the board will go through all envelopes to make sure that no ballots were missed. Those envelopes will be tallied before the county certifies its results.

Sosebee said the issues were unacceptable and workers may be reprimanded.