College Park election stolen, challenger claims

Gay, 52, said Monday that he filed a lawsuit asking the Fulton County Superior Court to throw out Mayor Jack Longino's tsunami-like victory on Nov. 8 because he said the election was "illegal and the votes certified are false."

Longino, 58, was dismissive about the lawsuit. "I think it's about a sore loser," he said.

Gay said City Clerk Lakeitha Reeves, who served as the election superintendent, refused to allow him or his representative to inspect the tally from electronic voting machines or examine the absentee ballots cast.

Instead, the lawsuit says, only a poll manager who also served as Longino's poll watcher for early voting, assisted with the absentee ballots. The lawsuit says Reeves and Melissa Brooks, an administrative assistant to the City Council who served as the assistant election superintendent, are both appointed by the mayor and the council, which Gay says makes them beholden to incumbents.

Gay suspects more people actually voted for him than Longino, whose official tally was 769 votes, or 71 percent of all cast.

"Unfortunately on the electronic voting machines, which the city of College Park owns, the data isn't saved on those machines, and we didn't see any evidence that she printed it off," he said. "I think there were just a whole lot of irregularities."

Longino doubted a court would throw out the election even if some "irregularities" were documented because it would take too many votes to change the lopsided result.

"When you break it down, I beat him in three out of four wards," Longino said. "I beat him in his own ward."

Attempts to reach Reeves for comment were unsuccessful. College Park spokesman Gerald Walker declined to comment, citing the litigation.

Stefan Passantino, an elections expert with the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, said if election officials banned candidates' representatives from viewing the count, College Park could find itself on the wrong side of the law.

"That would be a violation," he said. "Any time ballots are being touched, the parties are allowed to have a representative in the room."

Gay, who got 29 percent of the vote, isn't the only one to challenge the south Fulton city's election. College Park resident Betty Martin filed a complaint with the Georgia Secretary of State's Office because she said her ballot was taken by a poll worker during early voting and she never saw it placed in the ballot box.

If Gay's lawsuit gains any traction, it will be the first of three he has filed to do so. Suits he filed in 2003 and 2007, when he lost those elections to Longino, were dismissed by the court for technical reasons, he said.

At the very least, he hopes the lawsuit will force the city to become more transparent in its elections. The city process of holding its own elections, with the election officials beholden to the incumbents, casts suspicion over the vote counting, he said.

"When you have these small voting numbers, it is easy to manipulate the results," Gay said. "If in fact we lost the election, why was it so important to not let us see it tabulated. It was a concerted effort.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.