Third time’s a charm?
A Georgia judge who has twice overturned an election for a seat in the state’s General Assembly has set a new election date for April 9.
Senior Superior Court Judge David Sweat set the date on Friday for a third contest between Republican Dan Gasaway—who has been battling since last spring for a fourth term in the state House of Representatives—and challenger Chris Erwin.
Erwin has twice defeated Gasaway at the polls—by 67 votes in the 2018 May Republican primary and by two votes in a do-over election on Dec. 4 after Sweat invalidated the May race for voter irregularities that included disenfranchising district voters. He threw out the Dec. 4 race after finding four votes were cast illegally.
Gasaway and his attorney Jake Evans, a senior litigation associate at the Atlanta offices of Holland & Knight, have twice successfully contested the primary election results. Evans has said Sweat’s ruling appears to be the first time in Georgia that a judge has voided the same election twice.
No Democrat or third-party candidate entered the race, so the winner of the third primary will take his seat as the House District 28 representative. The district includes Habersham, Banks, and Stephens counties. Erwin, who was sworn in as a state House member in January after he was declared the winner, is currently representing the district while the General Assembly is in session.
On Friday, Erwin’s counsel Bryan Tyson of Atlanta’s Strickland Brockington Lewis wouldn’t comment on Erwin’s status or say whether he has stepped down as a House member. Sweat invalidated the election from the bench on Feb. 1. The judge filed his written order Friday.
State law is clear that, once a judge has entered a final judgment ordering a new election, “the person sworn into such office shall cease to hold the office and shall cease to exercise the powers, duties, and privileges of the office immediately.”
On Thursday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffsenperger’s office confirmed it is investigating voting irregularities associated with the twice-tainted race centering on Habersham County. Habersham election officials and the county attorney have declined to comment on the investigation.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the new ranking minority member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee who represents the contested district, said Collins is aware of the controversy but was too busy to respond to questions from The Daily Report about the judge’s findings. Collins has opposed a federal bill calling for sweeping election reforms—some of which address criticisms directed specifically at Georgia while now-Gov. Brian Kemp was secretary of state.
In his inaugural speech as ranking member, Collins—a pastor who earned his law degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School—called for the defeat of H.R. 1. The bill seeks to eliminate partisan gerrymandering, boost election security, establish more transparent controls on campaign financing, bolster voter registration and access to the polls, curtail voter purges, install state voting systems with auditable paper trails and prohibit state chief election officers from engaging in political activities.
Collins said at a Jan. 29 hearing on the bill that it would “deprive state voters of their own right to determine their state’s voting qualifications, district lines and means of guarding against ballot fraud.”
He also dubbed the bill—which is called the “For the People Act of 2017—as a “For the Lawyers Act” and a “For the Unelected Judges Act.” Collins claimed the bill would “allow disgruntled voters and activist groups, who are intent on getting federal judges to overturn elections, the ability to file unlimited private lawsuits.”