Residual Vote Rate in Georgia Reveals Ballot Error

A ballot-labeling error in a Fulton County, Georgia, commissioners’ race was discovered when a consultant for the county election office identified a 4,200-vote drop-off in the contest for the commission chairman. 

A lawsuit, filed by the losing candidate against the county Department of Registration and Elections, alleges that because the ballot did not include a descriptor, such as “chairman,” to designate its importance, it confused voters, causing them to skip that race on the ballot.

The voter drop-off is often called the residual vote rate. Pew’s Elections Performance Index calculates the residual vote rate in each state as the percentage of ballots cast in a particular election that contained either an undervote (i.e., no vote) or an overvote (i.e., more than one candidate marked in a single-winner race). The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project pioneered the measure of residual vote rate as a way to identify malfunctioning voting equipment or poor ballot design.

It is rare that such a technical measure makes the news, but the Fulton County commission race is an example of its usefulness in detecting problems in real elections. In this instance, the error resulted in a legal challenge to the race, which was dismissed because the judge believed that the ballot mistake impacted both candidates equally.

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