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ATLANTA, GA (WALB) -
The Supreme Court of Georgia will hear oral arguments concerning the election for the Baker County Sheriff's office. The election was delayed after complaints of voter irregularities.
Here is a summary of the case from the high court-
MEADE ET AL. V. WILLIAMSON (S13A0517)
The sheriff of Baker County in southwest Georgia is appealing a superior court ruling ordering a new election for sheriff following accusations that the voting was rigged.
FACTS: In the 2012 Democratic primary for sheriff, the incumbent, Sheriff Dana Meade, received 35 percent of the vote, Tim Williamson received 48 percent and Kelly Smith received 17 percent. There were no Republican candidates, and because no candidate received more than 50 percent, a run-off election was held in August between the two top vote getters, Williamson and Meade.
In the run-off, Meade beat Williamson by 39 votes, and the Baker County Board of Elections and Registration declared Meade the winner. Ten days later, Williamson filed a petition in superior court contesting the election results and naming Meade and the elections board as defendants. Williamson alleged numerous irregularities, including that the sheriff and his supporters paid individual voters with money and liquor to cast votes for him; that the elections board allowed a known felon to assist eight voters in casting their ballots; and that 14 ballots counted for the sheriff had been tampered with.
Following a trial in October 2012, the judge ruled in favor of Williamson and ordered a new run-off election be held in January 2013 or soon after the appeal in the case was resolved. Meade and the elections board now appeal to the state Supreme Court.
ARGUMENTS: Their attorneys argue that a trial court's findings in an election contest may not be disturbed unless "clearly erroneous." Here, the trial court made numerous erroneous findings of fact and conclusions of law. "Mr. Williamson, as the challenger, failed in his burden to show a specific number of illegal or irregular ballots sufficient to cast doubt on the result of the election," they argue in briefs. The state Supreme Court has reversed the invalidation of elections in which the margin of victory was not surpassed by the alleged irregular votes.
"As a result, 39 illegal votes are necessary to place this election in doubt," Meade's attorneys argue. "Even if we accept each of the ballots or votes addressed in the trial court's findings as ‘irregular' or ‘illegal' votes, at most we only have a total of 35 questionable votes, still not enough to reach the 39 vote threshold required to cast doubt on the election results thus invalidating the election." Elections "cannot be overturned on the basis of mere speculation," the attorneys argue. "It is not sufficient to show irregularities which simply erode confidence in the outcome of the election."
Williamson's attorney argues "that if there was ever an election where the election challenger has clearly established violations of election procedures and laws that have placed in doubt the result of an election, this is that case." There was plenty of evidence to warrant the court's determination that the election process was so defective as to place in doubt the outcome of the entire run-off election. The evidence includes instances of "misconduct, fraud, or irregularity by any primary or election official…to change or place in doubt the result," one of the grounds under state law for contesting an election. For instance, there was ample evidence the sheriff was illegally buying votes.
One witness testified he was picked up by Vicky Stubbs, a convicted felon and supporter of Meade's, taken to the courthouse where she voted for him, then driven to a tractor repair plant where he was paid $20. Another testified he was driven to the home of County Commissioner Van Irvin, a Meade supporter, who gave him $20. When questioned what the money was for, the witness said, "I don't know what it was for, but I know he was paying everybody and I wanted to get paid too." In this case, the trial court "properly found that irregularities in voting in the contested election were sufficient to cast doubt on the election result," Williamson's attorney argues.
Attorneys for Appellant (Meade): R. Bruce Warren, Christopher Rodd, Malia Phillips-Lee
Attorney for Appellee (Williamson): James Skipper, Jr.