Several citizens spoke out, as did Ward II candidate Melissa Strother, mayoral candidate B.J. Fletcher, and former Ward II candidate Cheryl Calhoun. The results of their efforts? Nothing.
From the beginning, county attorney Spencer Lee made it clear that the board saw this ordeal culminating in legal action, and seemed to welcome the action. “I think that it [legal action] should be done, the board thinks it should be done, and the community thinks it should be done,” he told a standing room only crowd at the Government Center earlier this afternoon.
Lee seemed willing to concede the facts, as reported, are correct. “No one can disagree with the fact,” he said. “No one denies that a mistake was made.”
However, many of the speakers wanted answers that the board refused to give.
Johnny Williams, who spoke at Strother’s press conference earlier this week, was the first to speak. “I have great concerns,” he said. He noted that Calhoun did nothing wrong, saying, “Ms Calhoun did not cause this, officials caused this.”
Williams placed the blame squarely on the elections board and the elections office. “Officials made a mistake, and I haven’t heard officials say them made a mistake.”
Next to speak was B.J. Fletcher, who started by saying, “I have respect for the process.” She then asked, “How did this happen?” The elections board, as well as Lee, began the first of several times claiming that this would all come out in court. She then asked if it would happen again, and was told that while it may happen again, it wouldn’t be intentional.
“I’ve tried to stay out of this because I respect the system,” Fletcher continued, saying “this community is healing, but this community feels it has been wronged.”
Melissa Strother spoke next, outlining events that lead to her filing to run for the Ward II race. She claims that, after learning of Calhoun’s disqualification, that she asked elections supervisor Ginger Nickerson what would happen with Calhoun’s votes from early voting. Strother reports that she was told that those votes would be thrown out. She was also told that it was to late to change the ballot that signs would be placed at precincts to tell voters that Calhoun was no longer a valid candidate.
Strother then recounted events on election night, when WALB had interviewed her giving an acceptance speech as she had been leading the race. She says she recieved a phone call saying she needed to come to the elections office. “I knew it wasn’t good,” she recalled. It was there that she was told it would go to a runoff election, and then the situation changed and Ivey Hines was declared the winner.
“I’m not trying to blame anyone for the original mistake. We’re all human,” Strother said.
A woman who referred to herself as “Miss Mary” said, “I didn’t see no signs,” regarding claims from the election office that signs were prominently placed at precincts. “Y’all need to go on and make this right,” she later declared.
Another Ward II resident, Anne Mitchell, says that she voted at Palmyra Road Methodist Church. She said, “there was not a sign prominently displayed that Cheryl Calhoun was removed from the ballot.”
She furthered her thoughts, saying “Something’s going on.”
The next Ward II resident to speak was William G. Livingston. He argued that several issues needed to be addressed. He took particular care to mention “negligence regarding where people live.”
Cheryl Calhoun stood up to speak, still somewhat emotional after the events over the last month. She pulled out two voter registration cards, one saying she was in Ward II, and another saying she was in Ward I. “You say this is a computer error, but how am I supposed to know if that was right?” she asked. Calhoun continued to speak about the confusion for just herself and her neighbors, who the elections office had also erroneously listed as being in Ward II.
Calhoun then went on to outline her cause as to how the laws on the books are inadequate. “You come with a law that doesn’t apply to me, because I’m innocent.” Calhoun noted that the laws on the books that were used to disqualify her are written with the belief that the mistake is because of the candidate and not election officials. “I am an innocent woman,” she declared.
She then said, “I just want the board to have integrity, and we will get our city back.”
After Calhoun was finished, Melissa Strother asked a question of the board. She stated her understanding that the Secretary of State’s office gave the County Election Board authority over this matter, and if they were deferring that over to the courts she would like it on the record. The question was given over to Spencer Lee, who said that he would have to research that but that at this point there “is a process”, again citing pending legal action. Strother asked if her would research that and get back to her, when Lee interrupted, holding up his hands saying “I’m not going to argue.” He then said, “You’ve got your own lawyer.”
The pertinent part of the meeting adjourned, and Strother spoke to the press. She said, “The board of electiosn has the jurisdiction to do the right thing, but based on Spender Lee’s response, they are deferring to the courts.” She went on to say that it would cost taxpayers thousands of dollars to settle this in court.
Strother has five days after the election is certified to file a complaint. The election was certified yesterday afternoon at 1 pm.