The State Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on whether to order a new election for sheriff in Baker County. The case follows allegations of vote rigging. The decision may turn on the number of illegal votes.
A southwest Georgia trial court judge ordered a new election to be held after hearing evidence that supporters of Baker County Sheriff Dana Meade bought votes. They allegedly offered using money and liquor to get people to vote for Meade in a 2012 in the runoff election in 2012. James Skipper is an attorney representing Meade’s challenger Tim Williamson.
“Court judge found five had their votes bought for 20 dollars, the going price was 20 dollars for a vote for the Sheriff. Folks that were doing that were supporters of the sheriff. There’s evidence of that.”Skipper said.
But Meade’s attorney Bruce Warren argued says even though buying votes is a felony, there’s no such thing as an illegal vote.
“You never know if you bought a vote. You can pay the money but you don’t know if you bought the vote or not because you don’t see the voter vote.”he told the justices.
But the Justices focused their questions on the fact that the trial judge only found 36 illegal votes. Meade won by 39 votes. That is still above the margin of victory. Just over 12 hundred people cast a ballot.
Skipper said it shouldn’t be about the number of votes Meade won by.
“When there are direct violations of state election law then what we’ve got is a basis for overturning the election.”he argued.
That would set a new precedent in the state. Previously, the state Supreme Court has only ordered new elections if the number of illegal votes equaled or surpassed the margin of victory.
Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham is concerned about overturning the election when the margin of victory is higher that the number of illegal votes.
“When the court looks at the process, there seems to be a real need to have some stability and predictability in this area. The cases that have come from this court have pretty much said that the numbers must line up too.”he said.
The justices have 6 six months to make a ruling. In the meantime, Dana Meade remains Baker County’s sheriff.