Georgia’s new secretary of state has opened an investigation into voting irregularities in North Georgia where a state house district election has been voided twice.
A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger confirmed the inquiry in what she called “a unique case” but declined to provide details. She referred the Daily Report to Habersham County election officials.
Habersham County has been at the center of voting irregularities alleged by Republican Dan Gasaway, who has been battling since last May for a fourth term as House District 28’s state representative. Gasaway lost the primary to Republican challenger Chris Erwin by 67 votes. Gasaway sued successfully last year to overturn that race and then lost the court-ordered do-over election on Dec. 4 by just two votes.
Gasaway sued again, and Senior Superior Court Judge David Sweat, who presided over the first trial, threw out the second election last week after ruling that at least four illegal votes had been cast. Those four votes were all cast in Habersham County, according to Gasaway’s attorney, Jake Evans, a senior litigation associate at the Atlanta offices of Holland & Knight and chairman of Georgia’s Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
On Wednesday, a woman who answered the phone at the Habersham Board of Elections and Registration said county elections supervisor Laurel Ellison was not taking media calls about the two voided elections. Ellison did not respond to an email request for comment.
Habersham County Attorney Donald Hunt declined to comment on the secretary of state’s investigation. He said he is awaiting a written order from Sweat by Friday that could set a date for a third election.
No Democrat or third-party challenger qualified to run last year for Gasaway’s seat. Erwin has already been sworn in at the Georgia General Assembly, which opened its 2019 session on Jan. 14. Hunt said the county has not decided whether to appeal Sweat’s ruling.
On Wednesday, Evans confirmed the secretary of state’s office has requested information from him about the four individuals whose votes Sweat determined were illegally cast and who had included inaccurate information on their voter certificates. All four were subpoenaed to testify during the four-day trial. He declined further comment.
At last week’s trial, Evans introduced evidence that at least 21 people appear to have voted illegally in the district, which also includes Banks County and parts of Stephens County. He said after the race was overturned that he had gathered data that at least 68 ballots were at issue. Sweat invalidated only ballots cast by voters who were called to testify at the trial.
The four illegal Habersham ballots included three cast by women who had lived outside the district for more than a year but continued to vote in their former precincts. Two women were given ballots even though they listed new addresses on their voter certificates, Evans said after the trial. A third woman listed her residence and voting address as an empty lot, he said.
A fourth resident was allowed to cast a ballot after election officials notified him someone using his name had already voted, Evans said.
Last September, Sweat threw out the first election after evidence presented at trial showed that at least 402 registered Habersham County voters were erroneously assigned to the wrong district. At least 74 registered voters in Habersham and Stephens counties—parts of which are in District 28—who actually cast ballots were given the wrong ones that did not include the Gasaway-Erwin race.