Hall County Elections official says combination of factors led to Oakwood election discrepancies

By Austin Eller News Director
Posted 3:18PM on Friday 29th March 2024 ( 1 month ago )

A Hall County Elections official released Friday afternoon a full investigation document detailing what led to 200 non-City of Oakwood residents being able to cast their ballot in an Oakwood City Council Special Election on March 12. 

Tom Braatz, Hall County Elections Sr. Specialist, said a combination of factors led to the discrepancy. Aside from the 200 voters who should not have been able to vote in the race, it was previously announced that 22 people should have been able to vote and were unable to. Rhonda Wood won that race by an 88-vote margin, defeating opponent Volley Collins. That election was held the same day as the Presidential Preference Primary in Georgia.

Officials have been mum on what led to the issue until the release of Braatz's investigation on Friday.

Braatz said the Presidential Preference Primary ballots were delivered to Hall County on Jan. 2. Those ballots were reviewed and validated in a process known as proofing, with that process being complete about a week after they were delivered to the county. The election status then became "ballot ready," following that review process.

A Federal Court-ordered redistricting was then approved on Jan. 4, two days after the ballots were delivered to Hall County. 

The election was carried out in the new, post-redistricting data structure, according to Braatz. However, a failure to properly map the new data to the old, pre-redistricting data led to incorrect ballot assignments to voters from the electronic poll books.

Braatz said the court-ordered redistricting started a series of issues, as it was an abnormal event. He said he believed officials would need to look at the election preparation process to determine what additional steps can be taken in the future to ensure that the issue does not occur again.

Hall County Elections officials reportedly noticed the issue during the early voting period but on a very small scale. The bulk of the problem came about on the March 12 election day. Braatz said they were unable to determine the source of the problem before the election. They also contacted the Secretary of State's Office for help determining what was causing the issue.

"It wasn't really, unfortunately, until it was all over and done with that we could see the extent of it," Braatz said. "We wouldn't obviously stop the Presidential Preference Primary for the City of Oakwood election. And they're co-mingled, they're all done together. It's all on the same equipment ... so there was really no reasonable opportunity to stop the election."

Additional problems, as determined by Braatz, included insufficient working relationships with the various parties involved, and the fact that low risk was assumed in the election with it being a standard Presidential Preference Primary.

"In my opinion, we didn't have a close enough working relationship with the county elections department, the Secretary of State's office, and the electronic pool book vendor to get all organized on this and identify the problem in the timeframe that was needed," Braatz told AccessWDUN.

The results of the election were certified by the Hall County Elections Office. The Secretary of State's Office told AccessWDUN Friday morning that they had opened an investigation into the matter.

Rhonda Wood was scheduled to be sworn in for the Post 4 seat on the city council in the coming days, but City Manager B.R. White told AccessWDUN Friday afternoon the swearing-in ceremony had been canceled.

"The City will not be swearing in Mrs. Wood on Tuesday," White said in an email statement. "The City will wait on the Secretary of State’s office to complete its investigation. The Council will still hold its work session on Tuesday."

It's unclear if any action will be taken in the days to come, but Georgia House District 30 Representative Derrick McCollum told AccessWDUN Thursday that he believed another election should be held.

"It just bothers me that they're going to swear [Wood] in without having another election," McCollum said. "I hate to cost the taxpayers money, but I feel like they could just have another election on the May primary date and it wouldn't cost taxpayers any more money."

Former Hall County Board of Elections and Registration Chairman Dr. Tom Smiley said Friday that no blame should be placed on Hall County elections officials.

"I was very pleased to read that members of the Hall County Board of Elections, after an investigation of the situation regarding the Oakwood election, came out and clearly said that this was not a Hall County Board of Elections or election staff problem," Smiley said. "I'm very familiar with what happened, and it's very gratifying to see that our local staff and our board has been cleared of any failure."


AccessWDUN's previous reporting on the matter:

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