The Statesboro Citizens for Good Government decided Wednesday to withdraw its 909 voter challenges holding up the final results in two City Council races. A total of 297 challenged voters actually cast ballots during early voting and on Election Day – Nov. 6.
Bulloch County Attorney Jeff Akins confirmed the group's attorney told him the challenges would be dropped.
"Yes, the challenges have been withdrawn. All of them," Akins said. "Since the challenges have been withdrawn, we're not required to hold any hearings."
Statesboro city Election Superintendent Judy McCorkle is responsible for counting the ballots and certifying the final results. She was out of town Wednesday when the challenges were withdrawn and could not be reached for comment about when she would tally the votes.
Nancy Waters, one of the organizing members of the citizens group, said they looked at precedent and consulted with their attorney at length, ultimately deciding as a group to no longer pursue the matter.
"As we looked at [the Young Harris] case, it was so very similar to ours that we felt that the chances of us being able to prevail was very slim," said Waters.
In 1980, 110 students from Young Harris, a college in north Georgia, were challenged as a group in a petition that questioned residency. The registrations were thrown out by that county’s board of registrars. The District Court of North Georgia, however, overturned the registrar's decision, stating the original ruling was thrown out because the challenges "were based solely on their status as students."
District 5 incumbent John Morris said he will be happy to get some finality to the election.
"It being over will certainly be a good thing for the city,” Morris said. “We'll see how these votes turnout and we'll go from there."
District 5 challenger Travis Chance was happy to hear the challenges were dropped.
"I think it's great,” Chance said. “Whether I win or whether I lose, I think that no matter what, these votes shouldn't have been challenged in the beginning. It's definitely the right thing to do."
Morris received 363 votes after all votes were counted Nov. 6, while Chance received 328 votes. There are 93 challenged ballots in District 5 and it already was determined by the registrar that one additional provisional vote will count - for a total of 94 votes yet to be counted. Chance would need 65 of the votes – 69 percent – to overcome his current deficit and win the seat.
In addition to the District 5 race, the District 3 race between incumbent Will Britt and challenger Harry “Bubba” Propes is still technically undetermined. Britt gathered 270 votes on Tuesday while Propes picked up 200, making a difference of 70 votes. There are 72 challenged ballots in District 2 and four provisional votes yet to be counted. In order to Britt to lose his seat, Propes would need 74 of the 76 outstanding votes.
Waters reiterated Wednesday the original reasoning behind the challenges.
"Our intention was never to be a bunch of trouble makers – it was to draw attention to the registration problems we had here and the misinformation that the students were given – upon which they were basing their vote," Waters said. "They were told we wanted to deny them the right to vote – that was never what we were about. Never.”Charles Lester with Georgia Election Protection said the group was working with the students and the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project on a potential class action in Federal Court to enjoin the challenges.
"We are pleased that the challengers gave up on the challenges, but we remain concerned by the actions of the city officials in Statesboro, and that the challenges caused students that were registered to decide not to vote," Lester said.
Stephanie Marz, one of the Georgia Southern students whose vote was challenged, was happy with the decision: "There was no legitimate reason for the votes to be challenged in the first place, so I think it's good that they dropped them."
Hubert Reeves, attorney for the citizens group, said dropping the challenges was the prudent thing to do.
"I became convinced, as a result of my research, that if a federal court challenge were filed challenging their right to bring a blanket challenge to electors based solely on their status as students, while there is no binding precedent, the movement of the law is such that there would be some difficulty," said Reeves.
Sarah Hines, another organizer of the group, said this isn't the end of what the group tried to accomplish.
"We hope this has generated some interest and hope that as a result something will be done at the state level," said Hines. "We like to see some questions listed on the registration form that are listed in the Georgia Code and determine if you're a resident – driver's license, vehicle registration and financial independence from parents – things that are listed in the code. To be more specific – have the questions on the registration form itself."
Reeves echoed Hines' sentiment."I don't think that residency should be that portable – that residency can be changed at the drop of the hat," Reeves said.