Emails between city and school leaders show concern about voting irregularities

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 8, 2013

Icon_SchoolsShortly before polls closed on Nov. 5, Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss sent an email to city commissioners. There were reports of voting irregularities in the District 1 School Board race between Lewis Jones and Mark Arnold.

The next day, School Board Chairman Marc Wisniewski told some of his fellow board members that he was concerned that the number of voters affected would’ve been large enough to change the result of the election. Arnold lost by 75 votes.

Arnold told Decaturish he has no plans to challenge the election result. He provided copies of the email exchange between city and school officials on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6.

Peggy Merriss told Decacturish she asked city commissioners not to disclose reports of voting irregularities because the city was still gathering information about the situation.

“I didn’t have a lot of details,” Merriss said.

Merriss was unsure why county officials didn’t update the maps with information the city provided more than a year ago, in August of 2012.

The maps should have been updated for the Nov. 5 election, she said.

“It should have, but it didn’t,” Merriss said.

Here are the messages: 

From: Marc J Wisniewski
Subject: Re: Fwd: Decatur 2013 Redistricting
Date: November 6, 2013 1:49:28 PM EST
To:  “Julie Rhame”  and Valarie Wilson 

The area they are referencing is the area that sifted from District 2 to District 1 as a result of the 2010 census.  I looked the two maps – before and after.  These are homes on the east side of Swanton Hill Dr and Mary Gay Dr, then the northside of Greenwood and the eastside of Patillo, followed by the townhomes on Howard and Commerce, the housing authority homes west of Commerce and south of Robin, including White, and the Park Trace Apartments.  I estimate 376 housing units total.  In Decatur there are roughly 1.5 registered voters per housing unit, so this would equate to 564 registered voters.  I did have an old (2005 voter registration list) and these same addresses THEN only had 277 registered voters, so 564 is probably high.  In any event, there was a 20% turnout in District 1 (only 6% in District 2 – not surprising I guess without a contested race) so it would seem likely that approximately 113 votes may be in question (using the 2005 numbers, it would be approximately 55 votes).  No way to know if those votes would have followed the broader trend or have been more heavily towards one candidate or the other.  Obviously, if using the lower number of 55 votes even all of them going to Mark Arnold there would be no possible change in the outcome.  But using the higher estimate of votes, then it is possible to have changed the outcome.  I guess one way to think about  it  would be to see what the distribution would need to be in order to change the outcome and consider if that distribution is realistic.  My calculations are that using the high end number of votes, they would have had to have voted for Mark at least 84% (95 to 18) to have changed the outcome.  So, net is that in all likelihood this would not change the results (double the number of registered voters in those homes from 8 years ago and voting 84% for one candidate). But that is a lot of modeling versus knowing for certain – I hope they’ve already determine the number of provisional ballots and the number of votes in question.  And that we can quickly bring resolution.  It should not need to wait until Friday.  I realize people are human and make mistakes but this is really poor on the Registrar’s part.  I hope this doesn’t call into question the election so we can move forward but it really leaves a bad taste no matter what.  I feel bad for both Lewis and Mark – I can only imagine how I would feel in either of their shoes.  Phyllis, please let us know as soon as you hear anything.  Thank you.  

Marc J L Wisniewski 


From:        Phyllis Edwards <>
To:        bernadette1929 <>, Garrett Goebel <>, Marc J Wisniewski/Atlanta/IBM@IBMUS, Julie  Rhame <>, Valarie Wilson <>, 
Date:        11/06/2013 08:36 AM
Subject:        Fwd: Decatur 2013 Redistricting

From: Peggy Merriss 
 November 5, 2013, 6:26:41 PM EST
 Boykin Forwarder
, Commissioner Drake , Garrett Forwarder , “Cunningham, Kecia “,  Baskett Forwarder , Mayor pro tem Cunningham 
“Phyllis Edwards” Linda Harris, Casie Yoder 
 FW: Decatur 2013 Redistricting

City Commissioners – 
Please keep this to yourselves at this time.  
Please see the email below from Maxine Daniels, the Elections Director for DeKalb County.  We just found out about this within the last hour.  I cannot provide any additional information other than to emphasize we actually provided the correct maps on August 15, 2012 as well as in August of 2013.  
I wanted to make sure you heard about this as soon as possible before it reached any media outlets or campaign committees. We will keep you posted as events develop.  It is my understanding that there might be an election challenge depending on the outcome and the vote spread. 
Peggy Merriss
City Manager
PO Box 220
Decatur, GA 30031
Transparency + Engagement + Performance + Accountability = TRUST
From: Daniels, Maxine W 
 Tuesday, November 05, 2013 6:00 PM
 Peggy Merriss; Janet Kindelberger
 Woods, Glenda; Howard, LaTasha; Hart, Twyla I.
 Decatur 2013 Redistricting

Good afternoon,
We have just discovered that we failed to make changes that were sent via email on August 10, 2013.  This affects the Ponce De Leon precinct.  We have notified our poll manager to contact us prior to issuing ballots to any voters in the 687 ballot combo that contains streets that should have been moved from district 2 to district 1.  We will review each voter and determine the correct ballot style. Those who are in the wrong district will be allowed to vote a provisional ballot.  By doing so, we will be able to determine the number of votes that may have been cast incorrectly to determine if it is sufficient to alter the election results.  We will provide analysis of that before the election is certified on Friday.   
I apologize for the omission on our part.  
H. Maxine Daniels
DeKalb County Registration & Elections
Office:  404-298-4020  Fax: 404-298-4038

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • Ken C.

    Anyone else concerned about the “PLEASE KEEP TO YOURSELVES PART”?

  • Rival

    No. It is completely appropriate for Peggy to ask for discretion at a time when they are gathering information. Having more people to speculate on the “what ifs” before all available information was known would not have helped one bit.

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