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Student voter registrations challenged
100307 VOTER REGISTRATION
A Georgia Southern student registers to vote during a registration drive on campus earlier this month. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Four Statesboro residents filed petitions Monday challenging the veracity of hundreds of newly submitted voter registration applications – specifically targeting the registrations of new Georgia Southern University students who plan to vote in the Nov. 6 City Council election.
    Calling themselves Statesboro Citizens for Good Government, the four brought their petitions to the Bulloch County Voter Registrar office to legally challenge the registrations of around 840 new voters.
    Nancy Waters, one of the four who filed the petitions, explained how registrations were selected for challenges.
    "We are looking at residency requirements," Waters said. "Basically, it would be people who had never voted before and had registered for this recent election, who had just come to Statesboro."
    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.
    Other individuals who signed challenge petitions were identified as Sarah Hines, Karen Lavender, and Richard Coston.
    According to the Official Code of Georgia, "any elector of a county...may challenge the qualifications of any person applying to register to vote in the county...and may challenge the qualifications of any elector of a county...whose name appears on the list of electors."
    Shontay Jones, deputy registrar for Bulloch County, said the burden of proof is on the elector making the challenge.
    "They must prove that the person receiving the challenge is not qualified to remain on the [elector] list," said Jones, quoting the Georgia Election Code.
    Jones added the registrar's office is in consultation with the county attorney to determine the best course of action for the potential of hundreds of hearings necessary before anyone is removed from the rolls – a process that could extend into December.
    Incumbent council member John Morris, who is running against Travis Chance in District 5, said the group did not seek input from him. However, he said they did alert him to their actions after they dropped off the challenges. He said he was concerned that students could possibly affect their parents’ income tax returns.
    "I want everyone who votes to be a legal resident and I want to make sure that these students aren't getting into some type of trouble," said Morris. "I want to make sure they're doing the right thing and not doing anything that would get them in trouble later."
    Will Britt, the incumbent council member who is opposed by Harry Propes in District 3, was very upset with the voter challenges.
    "I'll be asking for [Nancy Water's] resignation from the Alcohol Control Board at the next city council meeting," said Britt. "I believe being on a board that's appointed by the city council – this is not a proper action to take. I believe that when we appoint someone to a [city] board that they should remain politically neutral."
    Waters defended the large volume of voter challenges filed with the registrar.
    "It is not our desire to deny anyone the right to vote and participate in government," Waters said. "However, we are concerned that young students who just came to Statesboro, who were registered in this massive registration drive out at GSU, were misled about the City of Statesboro and how it operates.
    "The ads that have been in the paper, the flyers that were put out in restaurants that promoted the registration drives under the names of only three candidates," said Waters. "We felt that the special interest group had focused on only a few issues of city government and that these were not even presented in a truthful manner."
    She said that parking and towing affect only a small number of students and that every ad put out has alcohol at the top and that the city is all about punishment and not safety.
    Waters said, "It was all about safety for those young women, many of whom were not of legal age to drink. It was not about punishment, but that's how it's being presented to these new students in Statesboro."
    The College Student Association, which has run a number of ads supporting Councilman Britt and challengers Queen and Travis Chance, has circulated flyers at campus establishments near the university. Among other issues, the flyers urge students to get out and vote in order to allow parking in yards, drink specials, Sunday alcohol sales and more than two drinks at a time.
    Britt said that he believes the main leaders behind the citizens group are Nancy Waters and Sarah Hines.
    "Two older bitter women – you can damn sure quote me on that," Britt said. "For some reason, there's a political agenda with these two and I don't understand it. It's very personal. [Nancy] is for the prohibition of alcohol and [the alcohol board] is for the regulation of alcohol. So, she does not need to be on the board."
    Phil Boyum may be reached at 489-9454.

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