Fulton County election workers sort absentee ballots during a pilot audit after the June 9 primary.
Fulton County election workers sort absentee ballots during a pilot audit after the June 9 primary. (Stephen Fowler/GPB News)

The Georgia State Election Board voted Thursday to lower the threshold of what counts as a vote for hand-marked absentee ballots while more directly instructing voters to complete their ballot by fully filling in their choices.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

In a 3-1 vote, the election board approved a rule that would change the settings on scanners used to tabulate absentee ballots to count any mark that fills in more than 20% of the target area inside the oval as a vote.

Any mark that fills less than 10% of the oval is not a vote, and anything between 10-20% is flagged for a vote review panel to see if it was a stray mark or intended to be a vote.

David Worley, a Democrat, said the lower threshold of 10% could cause some clear choices made by voters not to count. 

“If we establish these thresholds, there are going to be votes that are not counted where the intent of the voter is nonetheless clear,” he said. “And I am concerned about that.” 

The new rule is less restrictive than the factory settings used in the June primary, which counted anything that covered 35% or more of the target area as a vote, did not count anything below 12% as a vote, and sent anything between those two to a review panel.

Some election integrity activists raised alarms that some choices made by voters were allegedly not flagged by the scanner after the June primary, causing a large number of absentee ballots to be reviewed, especially where voters used check marks or “X” or other marks to fill their selections.

Another rule passed by the election board aims to clarify the instructions for filling out an hand-marked ballot to ensure it is counted. 

“Completely fill-in the empty oval to the left of the candidate name or choice in all races you wish to vote,” the new language will read. “Warning, do not use red ink or a felt tip pen to mark the ballot. Do not circle, underline, or mark through ballot choices. Do not use ‘check’ marks or an ‘X’ to mark your ballot.”

Georgia election rules require hand-marked absentee ballots to be filled out by filling in the oval, and other methods run the risk of the scanner not reading them. 

This story comes to The Current through a reporting partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Stephen Fowler is political reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting.