NEWTON, Ga. — After rumors of election fraud and the selling of votes in the Aug. 21 runoff election for Baker County sheriff, Tim Williamson took incumbent Dana Meade, who topped the runoff vote, to court.
On Tuesday, Dougherty Senior Superior Court Judge Loring Gray, who was appointed to hear the election challenge, issued a ruling calling for a new runoff election on Nov. 6, the date of the General Election. A day-long hearing on the case was conducted Oct. 3 at the Baker County Courthouse.
In his order, Gray cited a number of concerns brought out during the hearing, including allegations of vote-buying by Meade and Van Irvin, a Baker County commissioner, and others; incomplete “oaths” which failed to designate the disability of electors which would authorize a person to assist the elector, and evidence of an unqualified “helper” who assisted eight voters presumed to be disabled. Irvin said that witnesses who said he had paid them for votes came by his tractor repair facility, but denied giving them money or liquor for votes.
According to the order, Gray’s greatest concern was 14 absentee ballot stubs which “clearly appear to be altered in such a way as to totally obliterate a possibly intended vote for the Contestant,” with testimony indicating they were “re-voted” for Meade.
“It is only speculation as to for whom the votes were intended originally, or as cast by the Voter Registrar after invalidating the ballots in question, but they are surely sufficient in number to cast the results of the election in doubt,” Gray’s order read.
Given the irregularities, Gray wrote, there was sufficient evidence to cast doubt on the election results, leading him to void the results of the runoff that Meade won by 39 votes.
“It may be argued that the fourteen (14) voided ballots may not be enough, mathematically to reverse the decision of the voters, it is certainly enough evidence to cause the result of the election to be placed in doubt.”
“I’m glad judge Gray was listening to the evidence.” said Jimmy Skipper, Williamson’s attorney. “Hopefully, when we have the new election it will be fair and avoid these types of irregularities. The people of Baker County can make their own decisions.”