Botched election for Georgia House must be redone yet again

A judge on Friday ordered a rare second do-over election for a northeast Georgia House seat, finding that four voters were ineligible, throwing its outcome into doubt.

The new election means that voters will return to the polls for a third time to decide between Republicans Dan Gasaway and Chris Erwin.

Erwin appeared to win the first redo of the election in December by just two votes, but Senior Superior Court Judge David Sweat decided Friday that three voters had moved out of House District 28, and one person had voted twice. Because the contest was so close, the judge found that the four improper votes justified a new election.

“If you’re in an election, you should want to win it legally. We all should,” Gasaway said. “I don’t know that I’ll win, but if I win I want it to be a legal election, and if I lose I want it to be a legal election.”

Erwin, who took office in January, must step down while the outcome of the race remains in doubt, said Gasaway’s attorney, Jake Evans.

“We are certainly disappointed by today's court decision overturning fair election results, but we look forward to one more opportunity to run and win this race for a third time in a row,” Erwin said.

The first time the candidates met in May's Republican primary election, Erwin had a 67-vote lead until Gasaway discovered that mapping mistakes incorrectly placed dozens of Habersham County voters in the wrong House district. Sweat ordered a new election in September.

Then in the repeat Republican primary in December, Erwin held a two-vote lead. The certified vote count was 3,521-3,519.

But Gasaway sued again, alleging that 21 voters had illegally cast ballots, Evans said. The judge found that four of those voters were ineligible based on their testimony during a four-day trial this week.

“Getting a new election once is almost unheard of,” Evans said. “Getting a new election twice might have never been done. I’m proud of this legal win, and I’m very excited for Rep. Gasaway to have a fair shot.”

It’s unclear when the next election will be held. House District 28 covers about half of Habersham County, as well as Banks and Stephens counties. There’s no Democratic Party candidate in the race.

The case has factored prominently into criticism from Democrats over how Republican Gov. Brian Kemp oversaw elections when he was secretary of state.

As the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams often cited the Gasaway case on the campaign trail as an example of how problems with the state’s elections procedures can cut across party lines.

And she featured a Republican official, Habersham County Commissioner Natalie Crawford, in an ad that will run during the Super Bowl. Kemp's office earlier blamed Habersham officials for putting voters in wrong districts.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.