Voting irregularities alleged in LaVista Hills election

Staff writer Christian Boone contributed to this article.

Georgia law on contested elections

“A result of a primary or election may be contested on … misconduct, fraud, or irregularity by any primary or election official or officials sufficient to change or place in doubt the result.”

O.C.G.A. 21-2-522

State authorities seized a voting computer and opened an investigation Thursday into allegations of election fraud, including complaints about the referendum that narrowly defeated the proposed city of LaVista Hills.

A DeKalb election supervisor alleged that he found a stray memory card Wednesday that contained results from the Briarlake Elementary precinct, according to Channel 2 Action News. It’s unknown whether the votes on the memory card were counted in the precinct’s totals.

In addition, the investigation will examine 51 voters who cast provisional ballots, some of whom thought they lived in the LaVista Hills area but weren’t listed as being eligible to vote.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp called in the GBI and Kennesaw State University’s Center for Elections to help his office conduct the investigation.

“They’re very serious in nature,” Kemp said. “We got a lot of accusations flying here so we’ve got to figure out exactly what’s gong on.”

The LaVista Hills cityhood proposal fell short Tuesday by 136 votes, less than 1 percent of all votes cast.

The election could be invalidated if a judge finds misconduct, fraud or irregularities that could change the result, according to Georgia law.

DeKalb Elections Director Maxine Daniels said all votes were counted on Election Night, and there were no problems or missing memory cards.

“I’m confident the election we did Tuesday night is secure and accurate,” she said. “I”m confident that everything is going to check out.”

She also said she wasn’t aware of any problems involving memory cards from LaVista Hills.

She was aware that investigators Thursday also confiscated a voting machine from Dunwoody that had been brought to the elections office Tuesday night to remove a jammed memory card.

Leonard Piazza, the second in command in DeKalb’s elections office, said there were serious problems regarding the LaVista vote.

He said some voters were turned away from their polling places, voter material wasn’t properly secured and he discovered the loose memory card.

“This all surrounds LaVista Hills,” he told Channel 2. “At this point, I’m only calling them ‘irregularities.’”

Piazza said he took the memory card and copied information from DeKalb’s voting tabulation server so that he could try and prove tampering. But those actions aren’t allowed, and he has been placed on paid leave.

Mary Kay Woodworth, president of the LaVista Hills Alliance in favor of cityhood, said she’s received many emails from residents who said they heard that their neighbors weren’t allowed to vote.

“It’s unbelievable if that really is true,” she said. “It would be one more instance of corruption and bad behavior in DeKalb County.”

LaVista Hills cityhood supporter Steve Schultz said it would be difficult to overturn the election results, but he’s concerned about the voting allegations.

“Why DeKalb County can’t run a a regular election is beyond me. It seems pretty simple,” he said.

Once completed, the results of the investigation will be presented to the State Elections Board, which could recommend further action.

“If there’s enough voters to alter the outcome of the election, potentially you could have a new election ordered, but that’s all hypothetical at this point,” Kemp said.

About 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the LaVista Hills referendum. In the Briarlake Elementary precinct, where the loose memory card came from, voters supported LaVista Hills 378-313 with a 50 percent turnout.

If LaVista Hills had been approved by voters, it would have started a new city government covering more than 67,000 residents from outside Emory University to the eastern Perimeter.

Though LaVista Hills fell short, residents in nearby Tucker backed cityhood for their community by a 3-to-1 margin. The city of Tucker will include about 33,000 residents and stretch from I-285 to Stone Mountain Park.