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Gwinnett County ballots in limbo after software issue

The county confirmed the news to 11Alive in the early hours after election day.

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Gwinnett County officials reported a software issue with machines reading absentee ballots.

According to Gwinnett County Communications Director Joe Sorenson, the county had more than 118,000 absentee mail ballots that had to be processed going into election night. (The county originally estimated 120,000 ballots, but later corrected that number.)

The county started processing the first batches of the 118,000 ballots - about 48,000 ballots spread over 2,700 batches - with no errors. But, when the county started pushing through the second round of batches - about 3,200 batches with up to 25 ballots each - workers noticed a glitch. Those batches, Sorenson said, would not push through because the software showed adjudication was still needed - even though that had already happened.

"Absentee ballots are filled out by hand, and if a ballot is marked clearly, it will run through the scanner without a problem. If there’s a problem with how the ballot was filled out – for example, a voter placed a check mark instead of filling in the circle, didn’t completely fill in the circle, or voted for more candidates than allowed in a race – the scanning software will send the ballot to the adjudication module," he said in an explanation.

Because the ballots had already gone through a prior adjudication process - or the process of resolving flagged ballots - Sorenson said the elections board voted to go ahead and push the ballots through, with the understanding that some ballots would have to be re-adjudicated.

Sorenson said the county has been approved to use a three-person committee - one Democrat, one Republican and an election official - to review the roughly ballots in question.

Meanwhile, Sorenson said the county is working with software company, Dominion, to fix the glitch, the source of which is still unknown. They also don't know how many ballots were impacted by the glitch, partly because the ballots are processed in those batches. The low estimate is about 3,200 or about one ballot flagged per batch. 

The county said it hopes to get a complete count between the software and the three-person panel by Wednesday, with the process of re-adjudication beginning on Thursday.

Gwinnett County election officials issued a warning that results posted on Tuesday could fluctuate and change.

"This is no different than other situations that can affect final results – for example, provisional ballots or absentee ballots cured after Election Day – and this is why the results on election night are always labeled unofficial and incomplete," Sorenson said.