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Bad News for McKinney By: Ernie Suggs and Sonji Jacobs
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Henry C. “Hank” Johnson declared victory at 11:05 p.m. in his campaign against U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

Johnson had 59 percent of the vote compared with 41 percent for McKinney, with 89 percent of precincts reporting.

“I feel really good about where are,” Johnson said about 11 p.m. He said he believes that “soon we will be able to declare victory.”

Supporters like Brandon Bragg were thrilled by the results.

“I think Hank is the right man at the right time for the right job,” he said. “I was energized when I heard his message.”

He said he’s not surprised by Johnson’s commanding lead.

“I was expecting double digits,” he said.

At a party for McKinney supporters, supporters held onto hope.

“I’m feeling optimistic right now. All of the votes aren’t in. It’s not over until all the votes have been recorded,” said Tiffany Cole, 32, of Atlanta, who volunteered on McKinney’s campaign.

In DeKalb County, where political experts say the race almost certainly will be decided, Johnson had 56 percent of the vote with 83 percent of precincts reporting.

At a party for McKinney supporters, at the Omega World Center on Snapfinger Drive, a woman whose son died in Iraq, Patricia Roberts, saluted the congresswoman.

“She is in a position to speak for us, so we need to stand behind her,” Roberts said.

Earlier Tuesday, about 8:45 p.m., Johnson likened his campaign to the changing of the seasons – starting with the honeymoon phase.

“Then it was a long, hard winter. We went througth the sparse desert,” Johnson said. “Springtime hit on July 18. Something happened on July 18, when the voters spoke and propelled us into this runoff.”

Johnson said the negative aspects of the campaign was the hardest for him – particularly his bankruptcy revelations.

“It was tough for my family,” Johnson said. “But it was strengthing. Iron is forged when it gets hot. I feel like we are gonna win it.”

Johnson and McKinney stumped for votes all day around the 4th Congressional District, which covers parts of DeKalb, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties.

“I think Mr. Johnson has shown that he is a quality candidate who will represent DeKalb County with dignity, style, class and honor,” said Michael Tyler, a Johnson supporter.

McKinney supporters waited and watched for results.

Connie Zellers, 55, of Stone Mountain, and her husband, Remus Zellers, are longtime McKinney supporters.

“She’s brought a lot of resources - money - to the 4th District,” said Connie Zellers, a businesswoman. “She truly believes in representing the people and not special interests. That’s more important to me than anything else.”

The McKinney Web site noted voting machines not working or mysteriously casting incorrect ballots, “insecure” voting equipment, police harassment, and poll workers refusing to hand out Democratic ballots.

At one campaign stop Tuesday, McKinney said, “We also had a problem at Midway [elementary school polling place], where my name was not on the ballot,” McKinney said.

“My opponent’s name was on the ballot. … We are disappointed that the secretary of state’s office has not dealt adequately with these electronic voting machines and the deficiencties. Also, polling places have opened up and some of the machines were not zero-counted out. … And that is a problem. That is a serious problem.”

Dana Elder, the precinct manager at the school, said there was a power failure around 2:20 p.m. affecting one machine that lists registered voters in the precinct, but it posed no problem because there was another backup machine. The broken machine was fixed within 10 minutes and did not affect the actual voting machines, Elder said.

“It was really nothing,” Elder said.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office kept an eye on the elections, with 15 roving monitors on the ground in the 4th District, said spokeswoman Kara Sinkule.

Sinkule noted that the complaints were only coming from the McKinney campaign. “We are not having voters saying we are having equipment malfunctions,” Sinkule said.

McKinney has always held a distrust of the state’s new touch-screen voting machines. She has appeared at events promoted by activists opposed to electronic voting in Georgia. One of her congressional aides, Richard Searcy, was one of the most outspoken critics of Georgia’s electronic voting platform before taking a job in McKinney’s office.

When McKinney beat out five opponents in the Democratic primary in 2004 to re-claim her congressional seat, she did not question the voting machines’ accuracy or the results. On Tuesday, she was anything but silent on the issue.

“Voters should be able to go into the precinct with the assurance that their vote is actually going to be cast, first of all, and counted,” McKinney said Tuesday. “But at this point we have had voters to tell us the voting machines took several tries before they would actually even cast the correct ballots.”

McKinney made other claims about voting problems but did not elaborate or take questions before disappearing into a truck.

Both local and state elections officials said they are taking McKinney’s allegations seriously. But they were also quick to say many of the complaints were unwarranted.

The DeKalb County elections office released a statement addressing complaints from the McKinney campaign.

In answer to an allegation that a voter tried to vote for McKinney, but the machine popped up a vote for Johnson, the office said:

“Upon investigation by the manager, it was determined while the one candidates’s name was touched by the ball of the finger, the fingernail hit the name,” the statement read. “We do not expect voters to cut their nails to vote, but we are cautioning everyone to make certain they are satisfied with their choices before they hit the ‘cast ballot’ button.”

“We don’t have a problem addressing any claims that they have,” said Linda Lattimore, head of elections for DeKalb County, where much of the 4th Congressional District lies. “We’ll investigate and respond to each claim.”

The statement from Lattimore’s office addressed other issues raised by the McKinney campaign, claiming they were immediately rectified when brought to officials’ attention.

Some voters who wanted to vote in the runoff did not realize congressional lines were redrawn by the state Legislature in 2005, Lattimore said. So some voters accustomed to voting in the 4th District were perplexed at not being able to do so.

Lattimore said some voters who were told to wait while a poll worker investigated a problem misinterpreted it as being turned away from the polls. “We ask a voter to wait a second and suddenly [they think] we turn them away.”

Staff writers Jeremy Redmon and Julie Turkewitz contributed to this article.

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Ernie Suggs and Sonji Jacobs write for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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