Officials certify DeKalb election, LaVista Hills supporters skeptical

Nov. 3, 2015 - DeKalb County - A line of voters wait to sign in at Hawthorne Elementary, where city hood for LaVista Hills was on the ballot, with 275 voters by 11am. DeKalb County residents could vote on an ethics overhaul for the county and city hood for LaVista Hills and Tucker. Hawthorne Elementary is one of the busiest precincts in DeKalb, where voters will consider overhauling the county's ethics rules and city hood for LaVista Hills. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Nov. 3, 2015 - DeKalb County - A line of voters wait to sign in at Hawthorne Elementary, where city hood for LaVista Hills was on the ballot, with 275 voters by 11am. DeKalb County residents could vote on an ethics overhaul for the county and city hood for LaVista Hills and Tucker. Hawthorne Elementary is one of the busiest precincts in DeKalb, where voters will consider overhauling the county's ethics rules and city hood for LaVista Hills. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Election officials on Friday vouched for the accuracy of the referendum that narrowly defeated the creation of a city of LaVista Hills, even as cityhood supporters suspected misconduct and called for a revote.

The cityhood effort fell short by 136 votes out of 13,714 total ballots, a count that remained unchanged as the DeKalb Board of Registrations and Elections certified the results Friday.

But an investigation into allegations of election tampering will continue looking for irregularities. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office and the GBI launched the investigation Thursday after a DeKalb elections supervisor said some voters were turned away from their polling places, voter material wasn't properly secured and he discovered a loose voting machine memory card.

Election officials triple-checked vote totals from voting machines and tabulation computers, and everyone’s votes were accounted for, said DeKalb Elections Director Maxine Daniels. Two residents cast provisional ballots on the LaVista Hills issue, but their votes weren’t accepted because they were found to live outside the proposed city’s borders.

“We have confidence in the veracity of it, and everything has been checked and rechecked,” said Samuel Tillman, chairman of the DeKalb Board of Registrations and Elections.

LaVista Hills Alliance, a pro-cityhood group, said they’re not giving up hope that the results of the election could be challenged.

“We are telling LaVista Hills supporters to keep the faith, keep your yard signs and take a deep breath,” said a statement from LaVista Hills Alliance. “County government has a natural-born way of screwing things up from water bills to local elections, so we plan to wait and see what the GBI and the Secretary of State find before determining our next move.”

DeKalb Commissioner Nancy Jester, whose district includes part of LaVista Hills, said another election should be called.

“Voters in DeKalb deserve to have confidence that elections are conducted with integrity and security,” Jester said. “Unless and until voters are allowed an election without any shadow of illegitimacy, this vote will remain suspect and DeKalb’s reputation will continue to erode.”

Allegations of electoral misconduct came from DeKalb Elections Supervisor Leonard Piazza, who has been placed on leave because of a conflict with a co-worker, Daniels said.

Piazza was fired from his previous job as elections director in Lucern County, Penn., in April 2012. Piazza was fired after he requested campaign finance information from the county’s controller, who was reviewing Piazza’s attendance records, according to The Citizens Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Penn.

He was hired by DeKalb in June 2014.

Piazza didn’t return phone messages and an email seeking comment.

Several voters say they witnessed suspicious behavior during the election.

Wanda Walton said her voting card didn’t display a ballot when she voted, and an election official had to give her a new card. She also said she couldn’t get an election count from the Hawthorne Elementary precinct even an hour after polls had closed Tuesday.

She said DeKalb County’s government had a lot to lose if LaVista Hills had become a city, taking in 67,000 residents and a portion of the county’s tax revenue.

“If you think about a conspiracy, if there was ever going to be one, this is it,” she said Friday. “LaVista Hills was going to be the biggest city in DeKalb County. At this point I don’t have a lot of faith in anything. We’ve seen so much corruption across the county, why should this be any different?”

Another voter, Cheri Augustine Flake, voted against the cityhood proposal but said she was disturbed when she saw two or three voters turned away because they were told they didn’t live within the LaVista Hills area.

“Everybody needs to be able to vote,” she said. “It needs to be fair and square. There was a lot of confusion about it.”

Now the the election results have been certified, the investigations and potential legal actions could move forward.

Georgia law allows elections to be contested when there’s misconduct, fraud or irregularities that would place the result in doubt.

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