Group suspects illegal voting in mayor's race

A newly formed political group has asked the Secretary of State to investigate whether  ineligible voters cast ballots in the Atlanta mayoral election -- a move that could result in a legal challenge to the election of Kasim Reed.

Citizens for Fair Atlanta  Elections has asked  Secretary of State Karen Handel to expedite a voter list for last week's runoff election and determine whether it had voters whose addresses were either  non-existent or unoccupied and how their votes  could have affected the election.

Matt Carrothers, spokesman for Handel's office, said the request is being given the "highest priority."

Erica Long, co-chair of the group  formed last week, said it discovered that 1,314 voters in the general election on Nov. 3 had invalid addresses.

"They were empty lots,"  said Long, a supporter of mayoral candidate Mary Norwood.

She said the addresses had belonged to federal  housing projects or apartment complexes that had been knocked down. The group wants the secretary of state to determine if the "same phenomenon" occurred in the runoff  election in which  Reed defeated Norwood by 715 votes and  whether ineligible voting could have swayed the outcome, she said.

Fulton County elections chief Barry Garner, however, said his investigation of the questioned address  shows that the concern may be premature, at least in terms of election results. Only 33 of the 1,314 people on the list voted in the general election, Garner said.

"I don't know where they got their numbers but they're just not true," Garner said.  "I hope that they are not trying to throw mud into the game but we will see."

In her letter to  Wesley Tailor, director of the secretary of state's election division, Long said the group's analysis of the ineligible voters was based on a review of data files provided by the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, the contractor that manages the voting machines. She said the files showed that 1,314  potential voters voted on Nov. 3 from non-existing addresses. She noted the review only concerned in-person voting, not absentee ballots.

"This is a serious issue and it goes beyond who becomes our next mayor," she said. "We need to have confidence in the electoral process regardless of whose side you are on. ... We are going to have a new mayor come January and there are two worthy contenders out there but regardless we need to have the system cleaned up.”

Garner said both Reed and Norwood had poll watchers to challenge voter eligibility at the time of the run-off election. He said his office will mail letters to voters at the contested addresses and if the letters and a follow-up are returned, the voter will be removed from the active voter list.

Carrothers said that if the state investigation uncovered ineligible voters, the Norwood campaign could file a legal challenge to the election in Fulton County Superior Court.  He noted that election law allows certain instances when a person is allowed to vote in a precinct after they have moved.

Long said a legal challenge is a possibility. “We are talking about an increasingly close election with an extraordinary high turnout. With the numbers being as close as they are, that burden may not be difficult to overcome,” she said.