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Citizens group challenges highest number of voter registrations in state history
Jason Franklin, center, helps register Georgia Southern student Josh Garrison, 18, right, to vote in November's election Wednesday on campus. - photo by FILE PHOTO
     Officials in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office said Wednesday they had never seen the scope of the complaint filed Monday challenging the residency of about 840 voter registrations submitted in Statesboro. The challenges were filed by a local group calling themselves Statesboro Citizens for Good Government.
    In a phone and e-mail interview, Matt Carrothers, the director of Media Relations for the Secretary of State, said he didn’t know of a case like this before in Georgia.
    "We are not aware of a similar instance to the best of our knowledge," Carrothers said.
    Perhaps as many as 2,500 new voters have registered in Statesboro since Aug. 1. About 85 percent are between 18 and 24 years old and are Georgia Southern students. The massive surge in registration, which ended Oct. 9, was led by the College Student Association and candidates upset with the current leadership in City Hall. Early voting for the city races in Districts 2, 3 and 5 begins Monday and runs through Nov. 2 at City Hall and Election Day is Nov. 6.
    He also said that the Secretary of State's office will not have an administrative role in determining the challenges to residency. Georgia code assigns responsibility to the county elections supervisor, which is currently held by Lee DeLoach in Bulloch County.
    Bulloch County Registrar Shontay Jones said she has never seen such a large number of challenges in her eight years on the job.
    "Never had a single challenge," said Jones. "There have been challenges to the residency of candidates – but not voters."       
    City Election Supervisor Judy McCorkle said no one will be disenfranchised. Everyone will have the ability to cast a ballot – either at early voting or on Election Day – regardless of whether or not their registration was challenged. She said there will be three categories for voters."
    First will be the standard voter who is not challenged and has the proper identification. They will be given a Scantron ballot to fill out, which will immediately be run through the counting machine.
    Second will be provisional voters. These are people who come to the polling place, but did not bring the proper identification with them. If their name is on the voter rolls, they will be given a provisional ballot which will only be counted after they bring proper identification to the county registrar's office. The elector has two business days to do this.
    Third will be the challenged voters. These individuals will be given a challenged ballot, which will eventually be counted once the registrar's office has a change to process all the necessary hearings.
    McCorkle said her office is prepared for the elections.
    "We're going to accommodate people the best we can," McCorkle said. "We're going to follow the state guidelines and we're going to provide the best customer service we can. Our poll workers are well trained and ready to go."
    Sarah Hines is one of the members of Statesboro Citizens for Good Government and one of four signatories of the voter challenges. She said that the group is aware the burden of proof is on them. Alcohol Control Board member Nancy Waters and Statesboro citizens Karen Lavender and Richard Coston also are in the group.
    "At this time, we don’t know if we will subpoena information about all of these people," said Hines. "Some much of that will be left to our lawyer, that's why we have retained legal counsel."
    She said that they knew there was no precedent to this kind of action.
    "This is a new ground. It's a new situation. We understand that there is no precedent to this situation," said Hines.
    Nathan Queen is running for city council in District 2 against incumbent Gary Lewis. He said he is upset by the attempt to restrict students’ right to vote.
    "All they're trying to do is use scare tactics to prevent students from voting," Queen said. "If you're going to say something that's trying to deter people from voting, you better make sure you know what you're talking about. I don't dispute that Nancy Waters has the right to bring that claim about residency, but I'm very angry about this – they're trying to scare people away from their constitutional right to vote."
    Hines explained the groups reasoning behind the actions.
    "I feel like young college students are here just to go to college,” she said. “That their primary interest is in their hometowns where the candidates are people that they know and that their interest is really in their hometown – where their family lives, where their cars are registered, where their licenses are registered and where their permanent residence is. It's important for them to vote at home, when they're only going to be here for a short while."
    She said that they have no problem with the students who have come to town and made Statesboro their home.
    "I don't believe that you’re going to find that their residency is being challenged," said Hines.
    Queen believes there is other motivation behind the voter challenges.
    "This came directly from our mayor. That's what I think," said Queen. "There are more people in this community that are seeing ... how they want to control everything and not let anybody have a true say in what's going on."
    Hines said she has received nothing but positive reaction from the members of the community to which she has spoken.
    "All day long. Very, very positive. Nothing negative." Hines said. "If everybody is doing things for the right reason, there's no reason to be negative. We've received a lot of positive support from people in the community - young and old."    

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