June 18, 2024

A candidate for a county office near Atlanta was vaulted into first place after a series of technical errors made it appear that she had not mustered a single Election Day vote in a vast majority of precincts in last month’s Democratic primary, election officials determined.

The candidate, Michelle Long Spears, was shortchanged by 3,792 votes in the District 2 primary for the Board of Commissioners in DeKalb County, Ga., that was held on May 24, according to newly-certified results released on Friday.

In all but four of the district’s nearly 40 precincts, no Election Day votes were recorded for Ms. Spears, who had received more than 2,000 early votes. She said that she immediately alerted state and county election authorities.

“When I visited several precincts (including my own) after Election Day and saw ZERO votes reported for myself, I was shocked and knew that wasn’t accurate,” Ms. Spears said in a text message.

After conducting a hand count over the Memorial Day weekend and auditing those returns, election officials determined that they had drastically underreported the vote totals for Ms. Spears.

She received 43 percent of the vote, not 24 percent, as reported by an unofficial and incomplete election summary posted on May 25 on the county’s website. As the top vote-getter, Ms. Spears qualified for a June 21 runoff against the second-place candidate, Lauren Alexander.

“I hope that this never happens to another candidate, in another race ever again,” Ms. Spears said. “It has been a nightmare.”

Election officials attributed the discrepancy to a series of technical and human errors, which they characterized as being isolated to the primary race.

They said that the problems, which they described as a computer programming error, began when a fourth candidate withdrew from the race late — 135 votes were cast for that former candidate. A redistricting error compounded the situation, according to the county.

In a special meeting held at 5 p.m. on Friday, the county’s elections board voted 4-to-1 to certify the results of the primary, three days after a deadline to do so. As part of the vote, the board also denied several requests for an official recount.

“This has been an extremely unfortunate situation for all of us,” said Susan Motter, a Democratic elections board member.

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