The runoff for a west Atlanta City Council seat between Byron Amos and Antonio Brown will continue as planned.
On Thursday, Judge Richard Winegarden said that a provision of the state constitution that disqualified political candidates because of unpaid taxes was so poorly worded that he couldn’t interpret it.
The judge’s decision capped a three day trial that left questions about whether the contest would happen on Tuesday as scheduled.
In the March general election, only three votes separated the second- and third-place finishers, triggering a recount.
That prompted candidate Gregg Clay to allege that Brown, the businessman who barely beat him, shouldn’t have even been in the race because a $5,400 state tax lien. But Winegarden said there was no evidence Brown had acted improperly.
“I’m not going to disqualify Mr. Antonio Brown because of his tax situation,” Winegarden said.
In an Atlanta courtroom on Thursday, Clay’s lawyer also alleged that the Fulton County Election Board failed to process votes, incorrectly classified voters, improperly counted ballots and at one precinct, enlarged first-place finisher Amos’ name on the ballot, causing him to garner a disproportionate number of votes.
“That’s well more than we need to overturn this election,” said Lindsey Walker, Clay’s lawyerHillis.
But Winegarden said he only saw evidence one person had been wrongly turned away at the polls, which wasn’t enough to throw the outcome of the election into doubt.
Brown told the court that he didn’t know about the tax lien until he learned of Clay’s lawsuit. He said it was the result of an incorrect income amount on a tax form. As soon as he became aware of it, his accountant determined that his real tax debt was only about $400. He provided the AJC with a receipt showing he had paid that amount plus roughly $300 in interest.
Brown’s lawyer, Bruce Brown, point to a provision in the law that says that candidates disqualified because of tax liens can become eligible again as soon as they pay their bills.
The trial featured meandering lines of questioning that the judge characterized as laborious.
Several candidates who lost in the runoff questioned the county’s top election officials and one was allowed to examine two provisional ballots.
The District 3 post, which represents communities near Mercedes Benz-Stadium, was left empty when Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. died in November.
The district being rapidly redeveloped. It includes the westside expansion of the Atlanta Beltline, but also two of the city’s poorest communities, English Avenue and Vine City.
The election is to fill the remainder of Young’s term, which expires in 2021. The runoff is scheduled for April 16.
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