Melissa Watson, Baker County election supervisor, explains how absentee ballots are managed. She called “irregular” the 14 ballots with Williamson’s name ruled out and Meads name colored in.
NEWTON, Ga. -- Accusing the opposition of buying absentee votes, officially defeated Baker County Sheriff’s office candidate Tim Williamson took his opponent to court.
During a daylong hearing Wednesday, Williamson’s attorney, Jimmy Skipper, worked to establish the possibility that some voters were offered $20 and a half-gallon of whiskey to vote for incumbent Baker County Sheriff Dana Meade during the county’s Aug. 27 runoff.
Donna Sue Poole, an employee of a local liquor store, testified she heard a young woman say she’d been paid by Vann Irwin to vote for Meade. Irwin is a Baker County Commissioner and a well-known Meade supporter.
Baker County Elections Supervisor Melissa Watson took the stand to explain that the term absentee ballot can be a means of voting prior to the actual day of the election. Under questioning by Skipper, Watson explained and defended the system of voter verification for absentee ballots, including the addresses to which the ballots were sent. Watson acknowledged that once ballots were in the mail, her department no longer had control over them.
During Watson’s testimony, it was established that for someone to assist another voter, who may be disabled, that person must be a caregiver or a family member and sign a specific oath to execute the vote appropriately. Officials discovered that Andrea Stubbs, a convicted felon, had assisted at least six separate voters.
“Do you really think she was related to all those people?” Skipper asked.
Judge Gray joked, “Well, this is Baker County, Mr. Skipper.”
Also discovered was a stack of 14 absentee ballots with the entire line where Williamson’s name appeared ruled with a black marker then Meade’s name colored in. Watson admitted the ballots were irregular.
“The truth of it is, irregular doesn’t begin to tell the tale,” Skipper said. “There’s no way that 14 people just got together and decided to change their ballots in the same way.”
In closing arguments, Meade’s attorney, Bruce Warren, cited Supreme Court guidelines for invalidating elections, claiming none of them applied in the Baker County case. According to Warren, there had been no proven misconduct by Elections officials, nor had any voters been shown to be unqualified.
“Where are those who claim to have been offered money and whiskey for their votes?” Warren asked. “Why haven’t they been subpoenaed?”
Using a marker board to illustrate, Skipper added up the six voters assisted by a felon, the 14 marked through, irregular ballots and several more specific ballots he considered suspicious.
“I’ve been practicing law for 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Skipper said. “This election has been stolen from Tim Williamson.”
According to Skipper, the additional votes that might have gone to Williamson totaled 72. By Watson’s count, Meade won the runoff by only 36 votes.
Skipper asked Gray to declare Williamson winner of the runoff or to order a new election. Following the final arguments, Gray promised a decision by Wednesday.