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Hall County voter challenges rejected by election board. Here's why
0407 ELEX
Voters are being mailed applications to vote absentee in the May 19, 2020, primary. - photo by Shannon Casas

Four challenges to local voting in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff were rejected by the Hall County Board of Elections Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Ricky McQueen, Theresa Webb and Chris Fetterman all were asking the board to find that probable cause existed in challenges that there may be people not eligible to vote in Hall because they have changes of address on file with the U.S. Postal Service.

And a fourth person, Robert Michael Smith, challenged the votes of 40 residents who registered to vote between Nov. 4 and Dec. 7, “as well as some voters he’s challenging for residency requirements,” election director Lori Wurtz said.

“Is it legal for a person to register between a general and runoff election?” Board Chairman Tom Smiley asked County Attorney Van Stephens.

“Yes, sir,” Stephens said, adding an election challenger “has the burden of proof to make the challenge.”

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No one responded at the meeting when Stephens asked if McQueen, Webb, Fetterman or Smith wanted to address the board.

Between them, McQueen, Webb and Fetterman contended that some 8,500 voters “have changed their address … and should be disqualified,” Stephens said.

Reached later for comment, McQueen said the issue wasn’t about wholesale dismissal of voters who have changed addresses but making sure those who have a change of address on file are actually eligible to vote.

It would be a case of “we suspect you are in another address, so we need you to confirm residency in Hall County prior to the Jan. 5 election,” he said.

Asked why that’s even an issue this election cycle, he said, “There’s a lot of groundswell among conservative groups that something went on with this election — we don’t know what — but it’s caused us to focus on things we can take care of.”

Smiley, who made the motion to deny challenges by McQueen, Webb and Fetterman, said he believed that “in the spirit of the law, this sort of challenge should be done individually, anyway, not with a massive list.”

"I think taking 8,000 names off a roster based on material from a list I have not seen would constitute a purge," he said.

Vice Chairman David Kennedy said that a person’s name appearing on a change of address list “does not necessarily mean they have moved out of the county or anywhere else.”

“This is not about ideological concerns,” he added. “It’s about following the law, and to me, this issue seems like a no-brainer.”

Board member Craig Lutz, who opposed Smiley’s move for denial, said the petitioners all were working from the same database and “it’s not their problem” if “that’s a database you don’t have access to.”

“These three citizens of Hall County are exercising what is their only method to do what they think is right, and there is a perception out there that absentee by mail is a problem,” Lutz said. “These people can still vote. They’re just going to have to prove they still live here.”

 Board member Ken Cochran sided with Lutz.

“Whoever did this list, I’m sure somebody spent a lot of time (on it),” he said.

Member Gala Sheets didn’t comment but voted for denial.

Had probable cause been found by the board, a final hearing determining voter qualification would have been held, and all the challenged voters would be notified and “afforded an opportunity to be heard,” Stephens said.

McQueen, reached after the meeting by phone, said he showed up late to the meeting.

Asked his reaction to the outcome, the Flowery Branch resident said, “I’m disappointed, but it seems to me a recurring theme across multiple counties that the position of a lack of probable cause is being put forth. I disagree with that. The national change of address database is actually listed in Georgia law and is the standard for verifying voter rolls.”

“This is not about ‘Trump won, Biden stole it,’ none of that,” McQueen said. “This is about voter roll integrity.”

The challengers can appeal the board’s decision in Hall County Superior Court.

“That’s not something I’m prepared to do at this time,” McQueen said. “This is not just me — this is a statewide effort. We probably will be validating voter activity in the Jan. 5 runoff against this list for suspected mischievous behavior.”

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