South Georgia Local Government

Attorneys for Screven Commissioner, County Employees Say Registrar Should Be Sued Over Election Challenge Instead

Attorneys representing the parties being sued over the handling of the results of the election in Screven County have filed their first answers to the lawsuit filed ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Background

Two sitting county commissioners, a candidate for local office, and two residents are suing Screven County election officials over the November 8 General Election certification.

Screven County Commissioners Allison Willis and Mike Dixon, candidate for county commissioner in District 1 Tyler Thompson, Vicki T. Reddick, and Michael Lloyd Waters filed the suit on Friday afternoon. Reddick is a former resident of District 2 who has been moved to District 1 thanks to the Census-based redistricting in February 2022. Likewise, Waters was previously in District 6 but moved to District 1 at the same time as Reddick. They’re represented by John B. Long out of Augusta.

The point of contention is over the county’s decision to certify election results in Screven County in a county commission race with a margin of just seven votes. In that race, the opponents of the certification now say proper ballots with the correct county commission districts were not given to voters who changed districts thanks to the redistricting earlier this year.
In District 1, Democrat incumbent Edwin Lovett prevailed over Republican Tyler Thompson by seven votes. 715 Screven County voters cast ballots in that district with Lovett garnering 361 votes (50.49%) and Thompson garnering 354 (49.51%). More on the original suit.

Answers Filed in Court
Responses by Elections Workers

Ben Perkins, best known for his work as the city attorney in Guyton, and Wes Rahn of Oliver Maner in Savannah are representing County Election Superintendent Debbie Brown and Elections Supervisor Hannah Derriso.

Brown and Derriso’s response to the lawsuit largely directs responsibility to the county registrar.

“Respondent shows that it is the responsibility of the Chief Registrar of Screven County, Georgia to assign individuals upon registration or reassign individuals to voting districts when redistricting occurs. Additionally, it is the responsibility of the Chief Registrar to provide Screven County election officials and the Secretary of State with updated voter registration and district assignment information to ensure that ballots will be provided to voters based on the district in which they reside. All ballots are provided to voters based upon information supplied by the Chief Registrar; information upon which election officials, including Respondent, rely.”

Additionally, the the elections workers contended the following in their filing: 

  1. Petitioners Allison Willis and Mike Dixon lack standing to contest the election because they are not entitled to vote in the contested election for County Commissioner District 1.
  2. Petitioner Michael Lloyd Waters is not currently a resident of District 1 and he did not become a resident of District 1 as a result of redistricting.
  3. Petitioner Vikki Reddick is a resident of District 1 but Brown and Derriso do not know any additional information because that is the responsibility of the Registrar. 
  4. 19 of the referenced individuals who cast ballots in the November 8, 2022 election reside in District 1, but were not provided ballots that included the District 1 Commission race. 
  5. Derriso and Brown admit they discovered that the Chief Registrar made an error regarding the issuance of certain ballots for the District 1 election, and admit that Respondent Derriso certified the election on November 15 and 16, 2022 “as required by O.C.G.A. § 21-2-493(i), which provides: “If any error or fraud is discovered, the superintendent shall compute and certify the votes justly, regardless of any fraudulent or erroneous returns presented to him or her, and shall report the facts to the appropriate district attorney for action.”
      • They contend that Respondents were aware of an error, Georgia law required them to certify the results of the election. 

    Brown and Derriso ask for the suit to be dismissed because the Petitioners ‘failed to name an indispensable party (the Chief Registrar),’ because Petitioners ‘failed to follow written instructions regarding voting procedures,’ and request that all costs incurred so far be assigned to the plaintiffs.  

    They deny that illegal votes were received and deny that legal votes were rejected.

    “Respondents deny there was an error in counting the votes and admit that the Chief Registrar of Screven County failed to properly assign electors to the correct districts/precincts, which resulted in certain voters who reside in Commissioner District 1 not being given ballots for the District 1 election,” the answer reads.

    Response by County Commissioner Edwin Lovett

    Statesboro attorney George Rountree is representing County Commissioner Edwin Lovett. Rountree was the replacement recommendation by former Screven County attorney Hubert Reeves when he abruptly resigned this past summer.  

    Lovett’s response to the lawsuit also directs responsibility to the county registrar.

    Lovett’s answer also states that the claim should be dismissed because the lawsuit failed to state a claim which can be granted relief. Also among Lovett’s claims:

    1. Petitioners Allison Willis, Mike Dixon, and Michael Lloyd Waters lack standing to contest the election because they were not entitled to vote in the contested election for County Commissioner District 1.
    2. Petitioners failed to name an indispensable party: the Chief Registrar of Screven County, Georgia.
    3. Petitioners failed to follow written instructions regarding voting procedures.

    Additionally, Lovett admits that Petitioner Vicki T. Reddick is a resident of Screven County who currently resides in District 1 was not provided a ballot that included the District 1 Commission race. However, he denies that the election of District 1 of the Screven County Board of Commissioners was improper.

    Independent Judge Assigned

    Administrative Judge for the 1st Judicial Circuit, Judge Jay Stewart, appointed Senior Judge Michael Karpf, formerly of Chatham County, to oversee the proceedings on this matter. No court dates have been set.

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    Jessica Szilagyi

    administrator
    Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.' Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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