When a North Georgia judge overturned Banks County businessman Chris Erwin’s election to the Georgia General Assembly on Feb. 1, Erwin ruefully acknowledged the ruling.
But Erwin continued to show up at the state Capitol, sit in the House well and cast votes as the House District 28 representative for another week, according to legislative records and Erwin’s own Facebook page.
Erwin cast his last vote on Feb. 8, less than an hour before Senior Superior Court Judge David Sweat signed an order reiterating his Feb. 1 bench ruling.
Sweat’s order followed a four-day trial after Erwin’s opponent, Dan Gasaway, contested the election results for the second time. Both men are Republicans, and Gasaway is battling for a third term as the district representative.
Sweat’s written order stripped Erwin of “the powers, duties and privileges of the office” and set a third election for April 9.
This week, Erwin attorney Bryan Tyson of Atlanta’s Strickland Brockington Lewis filed notice that Erwin will appeal Sweat’s ruling. Tyson said the election boards of Habersham, Banks and Stephens counties—all counties in District 28 that were named as defendants in the election contest litigation—have told him they, too, intend to join Erwin in appealing Sweat’s decision.
But Gasaway’s attorney, Jake Evans of the Atlanta offices of Holland & Knight, countered it would be “best for all involved—most importantly the House District 28 voters—for the election to proceed on April 9, 2019, without a pending appeal. This will provide finality and will reduce further costs and heartache.”
“Judge Sweat’s order for a new election was correct, and we are prepared to show that is the case,” Evans added.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Georgia denied Erwin’s emergency motion for expedited consideration of his appeal.
The high court held that, because no appeal has been docketed, “there is nothing at this point to expedite.”
Erwin has twice defeated Gasaway at the polls, first by 67 votes in the May 2018 Republican primary and then by two votes in a do-over election on Dec. 4.
Sweat invalidated the May race for voter irregularities that included disenfranchising at least 74 district voters—enough to potentially change the election’s outcome. Sweat voided the Dec. 4 race on Feb. 1 after finding four votes were cast illegally.
No Democrat or third-party candidate entered the race. Erwin was sworn in as a state House member in January.
But for a week following the trial, Erwin continued to show up at the Capitol, meet with constituents, sit in the well of the House and cast votes, Tyson confirmed.
Erwin, who posted photos of himself and fellow legislators and constituents in the House well on his Facebook page that week, joined the majority in passing four bills and two resolutions, according to official legislative records.
Tyson said Erwin did so because, even though Sweat overturned Erwin’s election from the bench, the judge didn’t put the ruling in writing until Feb. 8.
Erwin “was not removed from office until final judgment from the court,” Tyson said. “That final judgment did not come down until Feb. 8. Chris was representing his district up until that time.”
House Speaker David Ralston’s spokesman, Kaleb McMichen, said Friday that the roster of legislators was changed Feb. 11 to reflect that the District 28 seat is once more vacant. Erwin was paid through Feb. 8, he said.
Erwin has not responded to multiple telephone and email messages. But on Feb. 1, he wrote on his Facebook page that the court’s decision overturned “fair election results.”
“We look forward to one more opportunity to run and win this race for third time in a row,” he wrote. “It is unfortunate that this process has already cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars and with today’s court decision it will cost even more.”
“When I first decided to run, many people told me it was impossible to beat an elected official with the power of incumbency, political connections and access to special interest money,” Erwin said. “I went from an unknown candidate to become a state representative. I feel confident now more than ever that our message will resonate with voters of this district once again.”
Last Saturday, Erwin posted another statement saying it was “a travesty” that District 28 is unrepresented “during this crucial period” and will have “no voice or vote on important legislation to fund government operations, fix rural hospitals, improve education and protect our constitutional rights.”
“Our veterans, law enforcement professionals, small business owners and taxpayers will be without an advocate responsible for helping constituents navigate their government and finding solutions for their problems,” he said.