You won, no wait, you lost, Kennesaw candidate told

Nov. 18—On Tuesday afternoon, the Cobb Board of Elections certified the results of the Nov. 8 election, declaring Madelyn Orochena the winner of a tight special election for Post 1 of the Kennesaw City Council.

That result, however, stood for about 24 hours. Orochena now appears to have lost.

Cobb's certified results had shown Orochena leading the seven-candidate field, 16 votes ahead of Lynette Burnette in second place.

In the brief period after certification, the city had invited the apparent winner to come in for an orientation, and a swearing-in ceremony was being planned, Orochena said. She had spoken with the city clerk, who was ordering business cards and name tags.

But then, around 4 p.m. Wednesday, Orochena got a call from Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler. There had been a mistake.

While preparing for an audit, Cobb elections staff discovered that one of the two memory cards from precinct Kennesaw 3A — containing 789 votes — had not been properly uploaded before certification. The new results flipped the election, putting Burnette ahead by 31 votes.

At a special-called meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, the Board of Elections plans to recertify the updated results.

Orochena, meanwhile, has requested a recount from the county, and filed a complaint with the secretary of state's office.

"It's a bit disappointing," Orochena told the MDJ. "The circumstances are not quite eliciting confidence. Which is a disappointment in the current political climate. ... But I am doing all that I can do within my rights to gain some confidence that the election was fair."

Eveler said that on a log sheet, elections staff had indicated the card had been received from the precinct and uploaded. But during the audit preparation, it became clear that had not happened.

"So either it was human error, just not uploading the card after checking it off. We don't really know yet," Eveler said. "We're still kind of looking at it to see if we can get an audit log or something from the machine."

Candidates in Georgia can request a recount if they lose by a margin of 0.5% or less. The new results show Burnette leading Orochena by 0.32%

The Board of Elections will consider Orochena's request for a recount at Friday's meeting, Eveler said.

"I am humbled to have the opportunity to serve the people of Kennesaw," Burnette said in a statement. "It may have been an unconventional election; however, I look forward keeping Kennesaw the best community."

The memory card error comes after a series of mistakes by the county's elections office this cycle, including mapping errors that led to some voters casting ballots in the wrong district, and a failure to mail out more than 1,000 absentee ballots on time.

The Kennesaw special election was triggered when former Councilman James "Doc" Eaton resigned his seat in June over the reopening of controversial Confederate-themed shop Wildman's in downtown Kennesaw.

The five-member Kennesaw City Council is elected citywide, and the race to replace Eaton drew seven candidates. The city charter stipulates that the winning candidate only needs to receive the most votes, not a majority.

After the new results were posted Wednesday, Burnette led with 1,756 (18.27%) votes to Orochena's 1,725 (17.95%). Behind the top two were Jason Acree (13.74%), Anthony Gutierrez (13.69%), David Blinkhorn (13.29%), Daniel Bowie (12.32%) and Jon Fred Bothers (10.74%).

"It is very concerning that an 'overlooked memory card' has changed the results of an already certified election," Acree wrote on social media Thursday. "How can one of the most technologically advanced countries have this kind of issue? The process of casting a vote (in my opinion) was very simple. Why is the process of counting and reporting votes so difficult?"