Bulloch County officials hope to have a schedule of hearings by Monday for voters challenged by the Statesboro Citizens for Good Government in the Statesboro City Council elections. Since the race in District 5 is still undecided, the 93 challenged electors in that district will be the first to be heard, officials said.
Though no particular date has been set, County Attorney Jeff Akins said he hoped to hold the first hearings sometime during the week after Thanksgiving – Nov. 26-30. The first wave of hearings will take about five days to complete.
"We're hoping to release, on Monday, a specific schedule for all five hearings as well as a list of names for each hearing," Akins said.
Akins said that each challenged voter will be notified by mail. The county also may decide to personally serve the notices because a number of the individuals challenged live in Georgia Southern dormitories. Since a voter registration form requires a physical address – namely a specific dorm room – but since the students receive mail at a campus P.O. box, there is no way to deliver the notice reliably through the mail.
After votes were counted Tuesday, District 5 incumbent John Morris received 363 votes while his opponent, Travis Chance, received 328 votes. There were also six provisional votes cast, in addition to the 93 challenged votes. To retain his seat, Morris would need 33 of the possible 99 challenged and provisional votes. Since the challenges were aimed at student voters, it is likely that the majority of the challenges will go to the student-backed candidate, Chance.
Akins said no particular procedure for the hearings are set yet, but he thinks that it may function like Superior Court. The likely scenario is that a group of 20 challenged voters will be summoned to appear before the Bullloch Board of Registrars at 9 a.m., then the complaints against each elector will be heard one by one. The burden of proof rests with the citizens' group to show a challenged voter is not a resident of Statesboro and, therefore, not entitled to register to vote in the city.
Akins said the location for the hearings probably will be in the jury room in the Judicial Annex – located downtown directly behind the Averitt Center for the Arts.
Charles Lester, who is representing several Georgia Southern students on behalf of Georgia Election Protection, outlined what his group may do if the hearings move forward.
“We could represent individual student in their hearings, and I suspect we will probably do that — come and advocate for them. I assume that we will try to see that each student that wants legal representation in the challenge has it.”
Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones said the county is making sure the challenged voters receive adequate notice and that county board members don't have scheduling conflicts.
In addition, seven out of 20 provisional ballots cast on Election Day and during early voting will count toward the final totals for the city election.
In District 5, one of the the five provisional ballots cast will count towards the final elections numbers. In District 3, four out of seven will count and in District 2, where Gary Lewis has already amassed enough votes to be considered the winner over Nathan Queen, two out of eight provisional ballots will count.
Provisional ballots are cast when a voter comes to the poll without proper identification or if they are for some reason they do not appear on the voter rolls but wish to cast a ballot.
Jones said a number of people said some thought they had registered at the DMV, while other had an out of district address. County officials checked with the DMV and voter maps to determine whether the provisional ballots would be counted.
Once a ballot is considered good, it is run through the counting machine and added to the voting totals.