ALBANY — Several candidates and residents of Ward II voiced their frustration with the ongoing controversy surrounding the results of the Nov. 8 election Wednesday. Addressing the Dougherty County Elections Board, several sought answers to questions about how the Ward II election was conducted.
They got none.
Discussion of the Ward II election, which now appears certain to head to court, wasn’t on the agenda for the board’s meeting Wednesday, which had been scheduled before controversy surrounding the race involving Cheryl Calhoun, the Rev. Ivey Hines and Melissa Strother began brewing following the board’s Oct. 26 decision that Calhoun was ineligible to run based on her residency.
Board members sat and listened as candidate and citizen alike ranted, quizzed and questioned them on various facets of the elections, including how votes cast for Calhoun could be declared void by the board and whether a re-election or runoff would be called.
On the advice of Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee, the board didn’t answer any questions at the meeting because of a likely formal legal challenge to the election results.
Lee prefaced the public comment portion of the meeting by saying the county and the board members are just as frustrated, hurt and upset as the public who attended were and that elections officials would fully cooperate with any legal action that was brought to find the facts.
“There was a mistake made. We all know that and nobody is happy about that,” Lee said. “The irregularities brought by Mrs. Strother appear to me to the basis for what I expect will be a legal challenge to the election. ... I think that should be done, the board thinks that should be done and the community believes that should be done.”
Strother, who according to the voting totals certified by the board Tuesday lost to Hines 568-523 after Calhoun’s votes were nullified, asked the board to do what was right.
“I don’t want a runoff,” Strother said. “I want a new election with Mr. Hines and myself on the ballot. ... I am appealing to your common sense and to your sense of what is right to what is fair and right and just.”
When it was her turn to address the board, Calhoun showed the board members her voter precinct cards — one she says was sent to her house in September saying she was in Ward II and another sent on Nov. 7 saying she was in Ward I. She told the board that the state law they relied on to disqualify her and toss out her votes didn’t apply to someone who had done nothing wrong.
“I’m innocent here,” she said. “Those laws I’ve seen and read don’t fit me because I didn’t do anything to deserve being disqualified. Y’all need to come up with a law that deals with what happens when y’all make the mistake, because I am innocent.”
Mayoral candidate B.J. Fletcher, who is in a runoff with former Ward II Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard for the mayor’s seat, asked the board two questions: How did this happen and will it happen again?
When Fletcher and the audience were told by board Chairman Walter Blankenship and Lee that the answers to those questions would come out during the pending legal proceedings, Fletcher made a statement.
“We’re trying to heal this community,” Fletcher said. “I feel bad for Melissa and Cheryl and Mr. Hines for being caught up in all this, and when he’s sworn in he’s going to have serve with this cloud over him because of this and that’s unfortunate. ... I hope you are able to make this right for the community and restore the public’s trust and faith.”
At least two people told the board that they were members of Ward II and that when they voted they didn’t see the signs that Georgia law required to be “prominently displayed” in the precincts in Ward II declaring that Calhoun was not a valid candidate.
Under Georgia law, Strother has five days to file a legal challenge with the courts contesting the results of the race from the time the results were certified. A judge would then schedule a hearing and request information pertinent to the election and would make a determination as to whether to toss out the election results and call for a new election, to call for a runoff, or to certify the results as they were brought by the elections board.
Lee said that while all of that could be done rather quickly in the legal system, Strother is fighting the clock to get her legal challenge handled before the City Commission has an opportunity to swear in Hines, which Albany Mayor Willie Adams has said will happen Tuesday.
In other business, Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson told board members that elections officials would like to set the early voting period for the Dec. 6 municipal runoff elections to begin Nov. 28. If accepted by the board, voters could cast early ballots Nov. 28-Dec. 2.
Voters citywide will be eligible to vote in the runoff between Fletcher and Hubbard. Voters in Ward VI only will have the opportunity to choose between incumbent Commissioner Tommie Postell and former Dougherty County Commissioner Victor Edwards.
Precincts in the unincorporated portion of Dougherty County will not be open.