Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, criticized Coffee County for its handling of the recount.

Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, criticized Coffee County for its handling of the recount.

Credit: Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office is investigating Coffee County’s handling of the recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The south Georgia county with about 43,000 residents did not complete its recount by midnight on Wednesday, Dec. 2, the deadline set by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. Five days after the deadline, the county still hadn’t turned in its recount results, Raffensperger’s office said in a statement Wednesday night.

“Every other county was able to complete this task within the given time limits,” the statement said. “In some cases, counties realized they made mistakes in scanning ballots and had to rescan, or realized they neglected to scan some ballots and had to correct that error. But nonetheless, those counties completed the recount on time.”

The Coffee County Board of Elections and Registration sent an email to Raffensperger Dec. 4 saying they would not be able to certify the election results “given its inability to repeatably duplicate credible election results.”

The hand audit of the election was off by one vote from the original count of the Nov. 3 election, but the second recount was off by 51 votes.

According to the secretary of state’s office, the county blamed the Dominion Voting System’s machines for the discrepancy, but did not specify what the problems were.

A more likely scenario is that Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Martin inadvertently scanned the same batch of 50 votes twice, said Georgia’s voting systems implementation manager Gabriel Sterling during a briefing at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.

“It was plainly obvious to us that they had double scanned a batch, and the director down there, for whatever reason, didn’t like following the process, she had something else she wanted to do,” he said.

Sterling tore into Martin over her sluggishness in finishing the recount and over two YouTube videos in which she shows how to change votes in the software, presenting the process as a security risk.

The video shows steps meant to be performed during the adjudication process if a machine cannot read a paper ballot because the voter did not fill it in correctly or marked two candidates for one race. In that process, there is a voter review panel present, and the system logs the change and shows who changed it for later review, Sterling said.

“I can go in the street and shoot someone, that would be against the law,” Sterling said. “What she was doing would be against the law, if she did that. So it’s a little disingenuous to say, ‘Oh, it’s a massive hole in the system.’ No, it’s how the system is supposed to work.”

Martin also revealed her password in a video, a potential security threat, Sterling said.

Martin declined to be interviewed, and multiple phone calls to Coffee County leaders went unanswered.

The discrepancy was not nearly enough to change the result of the presidential election. President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia by more than 11,000 votes, but President Donald Trump won Coffee County 10,578 votes to 4,511.

“The secretary of state’s office will investigate Coffee County for their recount procedures and ascertain if the case needs to be brought to the State Election Board for review and potential action,” the department said.

Last month, Raffensperger called for Floyd County Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady to step down after the original audit found a large number of missing votes there. The county board of elections fired him.

Raffensperger has also called for Spalding County Elections Supervisor Marcia Ridley to resign following charges the county improperly managed technical problems on Election Day. Ridley has denied wrongdoing.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.