Six months after election, challenge continues in close Georgia House race

Democratic state Rep. Shea Roberts of Atlanta talks with Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon, during the 2021 session of the General Assembly. Roberts won her election to the House by 377 votes, and a Sandy Springs man challenged the results of that race in court. The lawsuit was dismissed. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Democratic state Rep. Shea Roberts of Atlanta talks with Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon, during the 2021 session of the General Assembly. Roberts won her election to the House by 377 votes, and a Sandy Springs man challenged the results of that race in court. The lawsuit was dismissed. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Two days before the end of her first legislative session in March an Atlanta state representative appeared in a preliminary court proceeding to defend the validity of her win in November.

Democratic state Rep. Shea Roberts defeated Republican incumbent Deborah Silcox in November by 377 votes — about 1.1 percentage points.

But five days after the vote tally was certified by the secretary of state’s office, Warren Schmitz, a Sandy Springs resident who lives in their House District 52, filed a lawsuit against the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections alleging that it allowed illegal voters to cast ballots.

A judge dismissed the case April 22, citing that Roberts had never officially been notified about the lawsuit. Attorneys for Schmitz on April 30 asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling.

Backers of former President Donald Trump and many Republican elected officials in Georgia repeatedly questioned the results of the presidential contest, with several lawsuits filed and dismissed claiming voter fraud. They claimed thousands of illegal votes were cast without proving it.

However, most Republican lawmakers won reelection in November, so they didn’t question the results of their own races.

In his order dismissing the case, Senior Magistrate Judge Alan Harvey said state law requires the person filing a lawsuit to overturn an election to notify the candidates. Roberts had not been served by the time of the hearing — or by the time the judge issued his ruling.

On Sunday, Fulton County sheriff’s deputies arrived at Roberts’ house to serve her with a summons for the lawsuit that was filed in November — and that had already been dismissed by the court.

“Intruding upon my Mother’s Day with something that isn’t even legitimate — at that point it had become punitive,” Roberts said.

Her attorney, Josh McLaurin, called the incident “harassment.”

“The idea of serving Rep. Roberts after the case has been dismissed is nonsensical and abusive,” said McLaurin, who is also a Democratic state representative.

Ray Smith, who is representing Schmitz, did not respond to requests for comment. Silcox said she wasn’t aware deputies had gone to Roberts’ house on Mother’s Day, but she expressed her sympathy.

Silcox has not conceded her loss in the November race, something she said she was advised against doing until the lawsuit is resolved. She said she doesn’t know of irregularities in her election that could have changed the outcome.

“I’m not a big conspiracy person, I’m not,” she said. “I just want the truth to come out. And I want us to come together as a state and as a country.”

In the petition. Schmitz alleges that the Fulton County election board allowed 803 ineligible voters to cast ballots during the election, based on an investigation by the Fulton County Republican Party. He also said at least one person voted twice.

He asked the judge to declare the November vote invalid and require a new election.

Roberts called the lawsuit an effort to bolster Trump’s baseless claims that the Georgia election was stolen from him. Joe Biden won the presidential race in Georgia, the first time the state has supported a Democratic candidate for the White House since electing Bill Clinton in 1992.

“As long as this case dragged on, Republicans could use it as a talking point to say they were still investigating or litigating the results of the election somehow, as if it were a real or meaningful controversy,” McLaurin said. “And it never was.”