Politics & Government

Erroneous ‘official’ Georgia data is preliminary, state says 12 weeks after primary

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, backed by family, speaks during a unity rally, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Peachtree Corners, Ga. Kemp and fellow Republican Casey Cagle, who was on hand, faced off in a heated gubernatorial primary runoff race which Kemp won. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, backed by family, speaks during a unity rally, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Peachtree Corners, Ga. Kemp and fellow Republican Casey Cagle, who was on hand, faced off in a heated gubernatorial primary runoff race which Kemp won. (AP Photo/John Amis) AP

In large red letters atop a Georgia Secretary of State’s office web page featuring precinct-by-precinct vote tallies from the May 22 primary election stand the words: “Official Results.”

But the data is hardly official. Two and a half months after the primary, many of the voter turnout figures are wrong – in some instances wildly wrong, excluding totals from the Democratic races in the red state.

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor, said the data is “preliminary,” because the state’s system lacks computer programming to add totals from multiple parties’ primaries.

If so, some data on the site has been preliminary for quite awhile. Some 2016 data on the site is still inaccurate for the same reason, a review by McClatchy found. The errors have provided fodder for a lawsuit alleging that the state’s electronic voting system has failed catastrophically and asking a federal judge to order the state to scrap the equipment and switch to paper ballots in time for the November election.

Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said correct data is located elsewhere on the site, in a tab labeled “Voter Turnout by Demographics,” that is compiled “at least a couple of weeks” after the election.

“It is not an error,” Broce wrote in an email, referring to the problematic data. She said the state’s system is not designed for primary elections.

A separate error cited in the suit, which was found on a similar web page, initially indicated that 670 people voted in this year’s Republican primary race in Habersham County’s Mud Creek precinct. That number, even without counting the 69 Democrats who voted, was nearly 2 1/2 times greater than the 276 people whom the county reported had registered to vote. Calling the latter figure “a typo,” the county election supervisor last week ordered the number of registered voters corrected to 3,704.

Disclosures of the inaccuracies have prompted election watchdogs to level harsh criticism toward Kemp’s office.

“It is a completely bogus and ridiculous answer to pretend that the [turnout] numbers are somehow okay and legitimate because they are only reporting one party,” said Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, which filed the suit last year. “They are on a web page that says official results.”

The conflicting data could represent deeper flaws in the reporting system, Marks said.

“They should not have preliminary anything listed on that website,” said Sara Henderson, the executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia. “If [voters] can’t even trust the official website and the official information being shared from the election supervisor of the state, why would they bother to show up to vote?”

“This is sort of a repeating theme throughout the seven (years) and some months that Kemp has been in office,” Henderson said.

Last year, a cybersecurity watchdog found a security breach that left personally identifiable information on millions of Georgia voters easily accessible and vulnerable to manipulation by hackers. Last week, McClatchy reported about emails revealing that members of the state elections cyber team were fretting over “40-plus critical vulnerabilities” in the electronic system less than a month before the 2016 election.

Kemp has convened a commission to investigate changing the system for the 2020 election..

Broce said, however, that Marks’ suit is seeking to force the state to act in less than 90 days — more quickly than state procurement rules allow — to buy equipment and other materials needed to produce a paper ballot system for more than 6 million voters. She noted that any purchase would have to undergo an “open, transparent” bidding process.

“Georgia would have to acceptance test every piece of election machinery we procure before it is sent to the county,” she said. “We have to train thousands of elections officials.”

Marks said, however, that Georgia counties already use optical scanners that within seconds record each ballot cast by absentee and provisional voters.

In this file video from November 2016, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp addresses concerns over cyber security for voting in Columbus before the Election Day.

Christine Condon, @cchristine19


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