Forsyth elections officials reject sweeping voter challenge

Early voting has already begun for Georgia's May 24 primary

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Early voting has already begun for Georgia's May 24 primary

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

CUMMING — Forsyth County elections officials on Thursday voted unanimously to dismiss a challenge questioning the eligibility of 12,880 voters in the May 24 primary.

Filed by Forsyth resident Frank Schneider, the challenge is believed to be the largest one so far under the state’s new election law. It originally included 13,609 people — about 8% of all registered voters in the county — but Schneider removed people included in previous complaints.

The challenge was being watched closely by activists on both sides. Forsyth, a heavily Republican exurb north of Atlanta, has become a magnet this year for voter challenges. With little state guidance, counties are crafting their own guidelines.

Schneider said he created the list of suspect voters by comparing the county’s voter rolls with the National Change of Address database, which is maintained by the U.S. Postal Service. But board members said Thursday night that information alone did not amount to probable cause.

Board member Joel Natt, a Republican appointee, encouraged Schneider to return after he’s done more thorough research.

Anita Tucker, a Democratic appointee, said the change of address database is unreliable and that it was impractical to consider a challenge so large with just 12 days left until the election. Early voting is already underway.

Schneider accused the board of changing the rules without warning.

“Precedents are being set here on this committee,” Schneider said. “I would really appreciate it if you could provide some consistency here.”

Asked to comment on the board’s decision, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The people will decide; it will be a beautiful thing.”

About 50 people were at the meeting of the five-member Board of Registrations and Elections. Two of the board members were appointed by Republicans and two by Democrats. The fifth was appointed by a Superior Court judge.

If the board had found probable cause to move forward, county officials would have been required to mail notices to the challenged voters, giving them an opportunity to confirm their residency. If they arrived at a polling place without doing so, they would be flagged for review. They could then sign an affidavit attesting to their residency or vote with a provisional ballot.

“Does the staff have time to do all of that?” board Chair Barbara Luth asked.

The board on Thursday also acted on another challenge by Schneider involving 580 voters. Of that group, just 10 challenges moved forward. Those 10 had registered to vote using a post office box.