Judge will order a new Macon-Bibb County election in District 2

mstucka@macon.comNovember 26, 2013 

A judge said Tuesday he will order a new election in the Macon-Bibb County District 2 commission race, but it’s unlikely to be scheduled before the new government gets seated.

Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Boswell told Lee Parks, the attorney for apparent winner Larry Schlesinger, he knew of the expense and aggravation of another election but that he had no other choice.

“The only thing I can do, Mr. Parks, is to order a new election, which I’m going to do,” Boswell said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Attorneys for Schlesinger, challenger Henry Ficklin and the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections are supposed to confer on how that election should be handled. Boswell noted the election’s timing and other details are almost as important as whether to have a new election.

In the end, all sides agreed the Oct. 15 runoff election was flawed. The new election would be a reprise only of the District 2 election between Ficklin and Schlesinger, leaving intact voters’ decisions in the other commission races and the mayor’s race. Paul Bronson, who lost in the September general election for District 2, will not be part of the new runoff race.

The District 2 race was by far the closest of the nine commission races. Schlesinger won by just 26 votes. But Ficklin’s research turned up more than enough voters who were in the wrong district to cast doubt on the results.

Ficklin sued to challenge the results, saying the election was flawed.

Parks said Tuesday he had learned of even more voting problems, with five people who had been marked as voting absentee who hadn’t actually voted. Schlesinger had first asked a judge to uphold the results of the election and leave him in place as the winner.

Wayne Kendall, one of Ficklin’s attorneys, said Tuesday the elections board apparently didn’t know the Overlook Gardens apartment complex was supposed to be split between District 2 and District 3. All voters were put in District 3.

“We believe we can conclusively show there were at least 48 erroneously assigned voters. The election is in doubt,” Kendall said. “The outcome could have been different. And as a matter of law ... we are entitled to a new election.”

The new consolidated government is scheduled to launch in January. State law requires at least 29 days to call an election, which would make Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, the earliest possible date. The election board’s attorney, William Noland, said that date isn’t likely to be used.

Bibb County’s Courtroom B was filled for the hearing, which lasted less than an hour.

Parks told Boswell, the judge, he wants to ensure the new election is run properly, without errors and with state supervision. He also wants Boswell to consider appointing an interim commissioner to the post.

Boswell said he wanted to know what legal precedents could come into play, such as whether he could ask for an interim commissioner. The judge said it also was possible the new government itself might be able to appoint an interim, but he didn’t know.

“I’m not trying to invite lawsuits,” he said. “I’m trying to settle this one first. There is going to be a new election.”

Some 17,400 people live in the district, a Telegraph analysis of 2010 census data shows. The district is 66 percent black and 31 percent white, and it votes about 73 percent Democratic and 24 percent Republican.

The District 2 race was already the costliest of all the county’s nine district races for the candidates. In an Oct. 11 filing, Ficklin said he had $1,868.29 in cash on hand for his election. On that same day, Schlesinger said he’d had $36,127.36.

Schlesinger told The Telegraph the next election needs supervision and accuracy.

“We have to get the next one right, so we don’t have a fourth election,” he said, referring to the general and runoff elections as well as the newly granted election.

Ficklin said afterward the hearing he could win with the right voters.

“I don’t have as much money as my opponent does, but I’m going to be out there walking the streets like I was doing the first time,” he said. “And this time, if the voters are allowed to vote, I think they’ll be able to do a whole lot better.

“We have not lost an election. Our voters have been disenfranchised.”

Separately, Robert Reichert, mayor-elect of the new consolidated government, is asking another judge to allow the new government leaders to be sworn in Dec. 31.

Writer Jim Gaines contributed to this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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