Redo of Georgia House election ordered after voters cast wrong ballots

State Rep. Dan Gasaway, R-Homer, flips through the budget as the House listens to a presentation in March 2013. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

State Rep. Dan Gasaway, R-Homer, flips through the budget as the House listens to a presentation in March 2013. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

A judge on Wednesday ordered a redo of an election for a North Georgia state House district where dozens of voters cast ballots in the wrong race.

The repeat election will give state Rep. Dan Gasaway, a Republican from Homer, a second chance to retain his seat in the General Assembly after he had appeared to lose the party's May 22 primary election by just 67 votes to Chris Erwin.

The new primary election will be held Dec. 4, the same day voters will decide state runoffs, if necessary, after the Nov. 6 general election for governor and other offices, according to a ruling by Senior Superior Court Judge David Sweat.

Gasaway discovered soon after the primary that mapping mistakes in Habersham County incorrectly put some voters in a district represented by state Rep. Terry Rogers, while other voters in Rogers' district voted in the race between Gasaway and Erwin.

Gasaway said voters deserve a fair and accurate election.

“It’s important that voters’ votes are counted correctly,” Gasaway said Wednesday. “We should all hold this as a very important part of our country. This is who we are as a democracy.”

Election officials in Habersham County acknowledged their mistakes after the primary election, sending letters to voters telling them their address had been placed in the incorrect House district.

The problem occurred after repeated changes to district lines and precincts, which resulted in voters being assigned to districts that didn’t match their addresses. The county was split into two House districts when the General Assembly redistricted the state in 2011, and several precincts have been closed and reopened in the years since.

According to the Habersham elections office, 402 registered voters received letters notifying them they had been assigned to the wrong House district. Of those voters, 70 participated in the Republican primary election — three more than Gasaway’s margin of defeat.

Erwin, a construction company’s business director and a former Banks County school superintendent, said voters already showed they wanted a new representative.

“We’re ready to run and win again,” Erwin said. “We thought we had proven our case. The courts didn’t see it that way. … Let’s get it right this time.”

Georgia statutes require a new election if the number of miscast votes is sufficient to place the election in doubt, said his attorney, Bryan Tyson.

“You have to re-run the entire election,” Tyson said.

Gasaway, who has served in the General Assembly since 2013, initially appeared to have lost this year’s primary by a vote of 3,111 to 3,044.

He said he hopes the new election will have a different result.

“I’m a three-term incumbent that was subjected to one of the most negative attack campaigns run against me in the history of northeast Georgia,” Gasaway said. “They were false attacks. I believe the community saw what happened and they don’t want to see that again.”

The second primary election will be open to voters in House District 28, which covers about half of Habersham County, as well as Banks and Stephens counties. Voters who participated in the original May 22 Republican primary election and those who didn’t cast a ballot in the primary can participate. Voters who cast a Democratic Party ballot in the primary are ineligible.

There’s no Democrat in the race, meaning the winner of the Republican primary in December will become the district’s state representative.

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