Ward II candidate Melissa Strother, left, stands with disqualified candidate Cheryl Calhoun in this file photo. The State Elections Board has forwarded the ongoing city of Albany 2011 Ward II Municipal Election case to Assistant Attorney General Russ Willard for further scrutiny “in a non-adversarial way."
Ward II Election Timeline
October 5, 6, 7th - Electronic voting machines are tested for their logic and accuracy.
October 5 - 7th — Electronic voting machines are tested for their logic and accuracy.
October 10 — Absentee ballots are mailed out.
October 17 — Early voting period starts.
October 25 — Elections officials first learn candidate Cheryl Calhoun may not live in Ward II.
October 26 — Elections board disqualifies Calhoun
November 8 — Election Day
Today — Votes cast are expected to be certified by elections officials.
ALBANY, Ga. — Joined Monday by disqualified candidate Cheryl Calhoun at the Government Center, Ward II candidate Melissa Strother says that a series of voting irregularities have thrown the results of the Ward II race into question and that she will contest the election in hopes of forcing a runoff.
Elections officials are set to certify the results of the race today, after which time the Albany City Commission can swear in the Rev. Ivey Hines as the commissioner for Ward II.
Hines was declared the winner of the Nov. 8 race by a narrow margin after all votes cast for Calhoun were tossed. Calhoun was disqualified under Georgia law when it was determined that she lives in Ward I.
The Ward II seat was vacated by Dorothy Hubbard after she qualified to run for mayor. The unexpired term, which is up in 2013, was expected to be filled immediately after the race.
At a news conference Monday, Strother, Calhoun and a resident of Ward II said that they feel that the election for Ward II should continue as a runoff because if Calhoun’s votes had been counted, Hines would have not have achieved the simple majority needed to claim the seat outright.
Strother said she will officially contest the race if the results are certified today and said that the ideal outcome would be a runoff election between her and Hines on the Dec. 6 ballot, which already includes runoffs in the mayor’s and Ward VI City Commission races.
On her list of “principal irregularities,” Strother contends that elections officials erred in allowing Calhoun to qualify for the Ward II seat when she lived in Ward I; that officials didn’t allow Calhoun to participate in the Ward I race; that they failed to postpone the Ward II election after she was placed on the ballot; that there was an unusually high number of votes cast for Calhoun after she had been disqualified, and that there was an extraordinary number of absentee ballots cast in the Jackson Heights Precinct for Hines.
“We want your votes to be heard. We want this election to be fair and just,” Strother said.
Strother also contends that elections officials erred in not removing Calhoun’s name from the electronic ballot, failed to publish legal notices or advertisements declaring that Calhoun was disqualified and failed to prominently place signage at the voting locations stating Calhoun was disqualified, and that there was inaccurate information on the signs that were placed.
Ginger Nickerson, supervisor of elections for Dougherty County, said Monday that since the matter seemed headed for court, she’s been advised by County Attorney Spencer Lee not to comment on the specifics of the case.
Nickerson said previously that Calhoun’s name wasn’t removed from the ballot after she was disqualified because the early voting period had already started and the absentee ballots had been mailed out.
Georgia law gives elections officials the option to either reprint the ballot, strike the name of the disqualified candidate or, if there isn’t time to reprint the ballot, to move forward the election but put up signs at the precincts.
O.C.G.A. 21-2-6 (c) states: “If there is insufficient time to strike the candidate’s name or reprint the ballots, a prominent notice shall be placed at each affected polling place advising voters of the disqualification of the candidate and all votes cast for such candidate shall be void and shall not be counted.”
A second section of Georgia law states when candidates can withdraw or be disqualified and what happens to the ballots.
O.C.G.A. 21-2-134 (a)(1) states “If the ballots have been printed, the Secretary of State, the county superintendent, or the municipal superintendent may reprint the ballots to omit the name of the withdrawn candidate. All votes cast for the withdrawn candidate shall be void and shall not be counted. Prominent notices shall be posted in all polling places in which the name of the withdrawn candidate appears on the ballot stating that such candidate has withdrawn and that all votes cast for such withdrawn candidate shall be void and shall not be counted.”
Should the City Commission set aside the election results and call for the runoff that Strother is hoping for, it likely wouldn’t be cheap for Albany taxpayers if it were to be conducted on a date other than the Dec. 6 runoff.
To find a comparable cost estimate, one has to go back to 2009 when only one ward was on the ballot. In that election, the county billed the city more than $17,000 for costs associated with running the election, according to data obtained from the elections office.
Strother said she’s cognizant of the costs, but believes that the commission should do what’s right for the voters.
“This just isn’t right and isn’t fair to the people who voted for Cheryl,” Strother said.
Calhoun, who was standing alongside Strother Monday, said that elections officials further “injured” her when they put the signs up at the precinct.
“The thing that hurts me the most is that if they had done what was right, Melissa and Ivey wouldn’t be here,” Calhoun said. “They haven’t done right by me and the signs they put up saying I withdrew injures me, and saying I was disqualified injured me because I want them to say they did wrong.
“You can’t just throw 259 votes away. People fought for that right and now they won’t be represented and it’s not fair.”
And some residents of Ward II aren’t happy about the way the election has gone either.
Johnny L. Williams, the owner of Rabbitman’s Footwear, said he feels as though his vote was stripped and that local government has overstepped its bounds.
“Something is wrong with the officials that ran this election and I think Mr. Hines did not win it, so there needs to be a runoff,” Williams said. “Is this the United States of America or what is it? What’s going on? Is there some people behind the curtain that want this to go like this? What’s going to happen?”