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Georgia High court clears Baker County Sheriff

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court determined Monday that there was insufficient evidence to believe that there were voting irregularities in a Baker County Sheriff’s race, overturning a lower court’s ruling and all but handing the election to incumbent sheriff Dana Meade.

In its opinion, Justice Robert Benham writes for the court that “in the majority of cases in which this Court has affirmed an order setting aside an election, we have required the evidence to ‘show that a sufficient number of electors voted illegally or were irregularly recorded in the contest being challenged to change or cast doubt upon the election,’” the opinion says. “This Court has also recognized that the result of an election may be voided where systemic irregularities in the process of the election are sufficiently egregious to cast doubt on the result. The evidence presented at trial meets neither of these standards.”

Challenger Tim Williamson had argued before a trial court in Baker County that there were voting irregularities that could cast the results of the 2012 Baker County Sheriff’s runoff race into question, invalidating Meade’s 39-vote margin of victory. Williamson had beat Meade with a 10 percent margin of victory in the Democratic primary, but neither candidate managed to get the 50 percent-plus-one-vote needed to avoid a runoff.

While a trial court sided with Williamson and ordered a new runoff election, Meade appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. Monday, the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court’s ruling invalidating the runoff election results.

“In the case now before us, evidence of systemic misconduct for vote buying and alleged wrongful distribution of absentee ballots is largely speculative and is insufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that irregularities in the election process were shown to cast doubt upon the results,” the opinion says.

“Because Williamson failed to carry the burden of demonstrating the election results should be invalidated either by establishing a sufficient number of specific irregular or invalid votes to change or place in doubt the results, or by establishing sufficient irregularities in the election process to cast doubt upon the result, we reverse the trial court’s order invalidating the election results.”

Jimmy Skipper, the attorney for Williamson, said that the decision was disappointing and that he’ll talk with Williamson about any remaining options.

“It’s disappointing but that’s why we have the courts; to decide issues like these,” Skipper said.

Skipper said that Williamson has 10 days to file a motion for reconsideration with the supreme court, but that that decision hasn’t yet been made.

Meade was out of the office when called for comment.