NEWTON, Ga. — Voters in Baker County will have to wait until January to decide who their next sheriff will be, after a judge postponed the Nov. 6 race between incumbent Dana Meade and challenger Tim Williamson.
Earlier this month, Judge Loring Gray ordered that Meade and Williamson would again square off after allegations of vote-buying and other infractions marred the Aug. 21 runoff. That order included a Nov. 6 runoff — a date that elections officials said gave them insufficient time to piece together ballots for a county-wide election.
On Oct. 18, Gray issued a supplemental order staying the Nov. 6 runoff pending the results of a Jan. 8, 2013 election.
In addition, Meade has filed an appeal to Gray’s original order calling for a second runoff with the Georgia Supreme Court.
Jimmy Skipper, attorney for Williamson, said that he’s filed a motion for an expedited hearing before the supreme court on Meade’s appeal.
“We’re trying to get the election done as soon as we can,” Skipper said. “Mr. Williamson wants, and the people of Baker County want, to have this election as soon as possible so that we can have a resolution to this issue.”
Bruce Warren, Meade’s attorney, said that he was mulling over a statement on the issue.
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.
In his original order, Gray’s greatest concern over allegations of vote buying and ballot tampering 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,” Gray wrote.
Herald reporter Jim West contributed to this story.