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Georgia officials tweak standard for marks to count as votes

September 11, 2020 GMT
Election officials sort absentee ballots, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. Voters in Georgia return to the polls Tuesday for runoffs to settle party nominations in four congressional races and 17 legislative races, as well as a closely watched contest for who will claim the Democratic nod for district attorney in Fulton County. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal and Constitution via AP)
Election officials sort absentee ballots, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. Voters in Georgia return to the polls Tuesday for runoffs to settle party nominations in four congressional races and 17 legislative races, as well as a closely watched contest for who will claim the Democratic nod for district attorney in Fulton County. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal and Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — Election officials in Georgia approved a new rule Thursday that changes the standard for how much an oval needs to be filled in on an absentee ballot to count as a vote.

Under the rule, passed by the State Election Board in a 3-1 vote, scanners will be changed to tabulate all selections where at least 20% of a bubble is filled in. If less than 10% is filled in, it won’t count as a vote. Marks that fill in between 10-20% will be flagged for manual review.

The change will be slightly more forgiving than the factory setting for the Dominion Voting Systems scanners, which required 35% of an oval be filled to count as a vote and threw out anything where less than 12% was marked, news outlets report.

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The scanners are being used for the first time this year as part of the state’s new voting system, which cost more than $100 million.

The change comes after complaints surfaced following the state’s June 9 primaries that some votes, particularly those where voters marked a selection with a check mark or an X, were not picked up by scanners despite the intent being clear.

A record number of Georgians voted absentee by mail in the primary, as people sought to avoid polling places because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrat David Worley, a member of the board, expressed concern that even with the new, lower thresholds, some votes would be needlessly tossed out.

“There are going to be votes that are not counted where the intent of the voter is nonetheless clear” under the rule, Worley said.

The election board also approved a rule to clarify instructions on hand-marked ballots to tell voters to completely fill in their selections.

Walter Jones, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said Friday that the new instructions “will be on the ballots mailed out next week for the Nov. 3 election.”