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A voter casts a ballot during Georgia's runoff election on Jan. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP) A voter casts a ballot during Georgia's runoff election on Jan. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP)

A voter casts a ballot during Georgia's runoff election on Jan. 5, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 7, 2021

No sign of widespread voting machine problems in GOP areas in Georgia runoffs

If Your Time is short

  • An article widely shared on Facebook suggested that voting machines weren’t working in heavily Republican areas of Georgia for the Jan. 5 runoff elections, leaving people unable to cast their votes.

  • Officials reported only isolated, temporary problems with scanning ballots.

A few hours after the start of in-person, election-day voting in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoffs, claims surfaced that voting machines in heavily Republican areas weren’t working.

The implication: that the problems disadvantaged Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who were being challenged by Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock. 

The Democrats won both races, effectively shifting control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democrats.

Some of the claims appeared in an article, widely shared on Facebook, from TrendingPolitics, including an assertion that some voters said they were "unable to cast their votes in the Georgia runoff election."

TrendingPolitics describes itself as a pro-Donald Trump website that provides conservative commentary on the news.

The article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The claims amount to isolated instances of temporary machine breakdowns, some reported secondhand, with no evidence that ballots that presumably contained votes for Perdue and Loeffler were not counted.

The article included tweets from two people who said vote-scanning machines were not working when they cast ballots in what they described as heavily Republican parts of Georgia.

One man tweeted that he filled out a ballot in Newton County, Ga., which he described as heavily Republican. Ossoff and Warnock both won the county handily. The county seat of Newton is Covington, which is about 35 miles southeast of Atlanta. The man tweeted that he was told by a poll worker that the machine wasn’t working and that the ballot would be scanned after the machine was fixed. The man later tweeted that when his wife voted later, the machine was working.

Philip Johnson, chairman of the Newton County elections board, said a scanner at one precinct jammed, but another scanner was used and there were no delays in scanning ballots. At another precinct, about 100 ballots had to be put in an emergency ballot box while the one scanner was repaired and the ballots were scanned after the scanner was repaired. 

Another Twitter user cited in the article tweeted that the scanners "are down"  where he cast his ballot in Sandy Springs in what he described as a heavily GOP precinct of Fulton County, where Atlanta is the county seat. He suggested that meant Democrats would be in charge of putting his ballot, with votes for Perdue and Loeffler, into the scanner. Ossoff and Warnock won the county overwhelmingly.

Fulton County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez said there could have been isolated instances of scanning machines not working temporarily, and of poll workers needing to feed ballots into the scanners after the scanners were fixed. Corbitt-Dominguez said this is a common method for handling small numbers of ballots that could not be scanned by voters themselves. But she said she heard of no widespread problems in any precincts.

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Another Twitter exchange cited in the article said ballots were being placed in boxes in Paulding County to be fed into scanners once they were repaired. The Paulding County seat is in Dallas, about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta. Perdue and Loeffler won the county overwhelmingly. Paulding County’s election director did not return a call seeking comment. But Paulding County reported that one ballot scanner stopped working and voters placed their ballots in an "emergency ballot box" until the scanner was replaced about 30 minutes later, when scanning resumed, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Voting did not cease at any time and all ballots have been tabulated," a statement from the county said.

The TrendingPolitics article also included a clip of an interview that John Fredericks, a conservative radio host in Virginia, did on the morning of Jan. 5 on Stephen Bannon’s "War Room Pandemic" podcast. Fredericks said multiple callers to his show said that around 10 a.m. scanning machines in three of the largest Republican precincts were not working and that poll workers told voters that once the machines were fixed, the workers would put the ballots into the machines. In the clip, Fredericks did not identify the location of precincts. He did not reply to our emails.

President Trump made similar claims in a tweet shortly after noon on Jan. 5: "Reports are coming out of the 12th Congressional District of Georgia that Dominion Machines are not working in certain Republican Strongholds for over an hour. Ballots are being left in lock boxes, hopefully they count them. Thank you Congressman @RickAllen!"

Georgia voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling, a Republican, responded to Trump by tweeting: "And this issue in Columbia Co. was resolved hours ago and our office informed the public about it in real time. The votes of everyone will be protected and counted. Sorry you received old intel Mr. President."

In a statement, the Georgia secretary of state’s office said that in Columbia County outside of Augusta, parts of which are in the 12th congressional district, there were programming problems that required some votes to be cast on emergency ballots, but that the problems were resolved by 10 a.m. 

Perdue and Loeffler won Columbia County overwhelmingly.

There were no indications of widespread problems.

Asked at a news conference on Jan. 6 if there was any evidence of fraud or irregularities, Sterling said no. 

"We’ve seen nothing widespread, we’ve seen nothing that seems real in any way, shape or form, quite honestly." He also said: "Nobody was complaining about lines. Nobody’s saying they were disenfranchised. Everybody who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote and we feel very proud of that fact."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that despite a turnout of 1.2 million voters, there were a limited number of glitches, with voters waiting in line an average of one to five minutes to cast a ballot. 

Election protection lawyers reported no major problems with voting machines or extended waits at polling places, according to the New York Times.

Our ruling

An article shared on Facebook claimed that during the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections voting machines didn’t work in some heavily Republican areas and that some voters were kept from casting their votes. President Trump shared similar reports about broken machines.

Election officials said that while there may have been some isolated mechanical issues, the matters were resolved and there is no indication that votes were not cast as a result of those problems. Election protection lawyers, local media and Georgia’s  secretary of state all confirmed there was no indication of widespread problems.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

TrendingPolitics, "BREAKING: Georgia Voters Sound the Alarm, Claim They're Being Told Voting Machines Are Malfunctioning," (archived here), Jan. 5, 2021

Twitter, tweet from Voting System Implementation Manager for the State of Georgia Gabriel Sterling, Jan. 5, 2021 

Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, statement, Jan. 5, 2021

WJBF.com, news conference video, Jan. 6, 2021

New York Times, "As the Polls Close, Here’s What We Know About the Voting in Georgia," Jan. 5, 2021

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Voters see big turnout and short waits in tense Georgia runoffs," Jan. 5, 2021

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Georgia runoff election: Polls closed, now the counting begins," Jan. 5, 2021

Interview, Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez, director of external affairs, Fulton County (Ga.), Jan. 7, 2021

Interview, Philip Johnson, Newton County (Ga.) Board of Elections chairman, Jan. 7, 2021

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More by Tom Kertscher

No sign of widespread voting machine problems in GOP areas in Georgia runoffs

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