A judge upheld the results of the Dec. 1 runoff election declaring Loretta Lipsey as Gray’s mayor pro tem, but her challenger says the matter is far from settled.
Five votes separated Lipsey and Rallie “Rooster” D. Cogburn, but it was slightly more than 1 percent of votes cast, which is the threshold for a recount.
Judge H. Gibbs Flanders Jr. concluded in Wednesday’s ruling there was no evidence optical scanners were not working properly in tallying vote totals and denied Cogburn’s petition on all grounds.
Cogburn asked the court to invalidate the election or call for a recount because of concerns about the rejection of five ballots and allegations of fraud in at least one absentee ballot.
Four absentee ballots were rejected — three because of lack of proper identification and one because the signature did not match the voter’s signature on file.
Flanders of the Dublin Judicial Circuit, who was designated to hear the case by the Jones County Superior Court, held a hearing Monday to consider the evidence.
Charlie Pitts testified that he did not sign his ballot, which was rejected by Elections Superintendent Jamie Lewandowski. Flanders ruled Lewandowski acted lawfully in that instance.
Cogburn said he was unaware that Pitts’ ballot was rejected when he raised the issue, but the fact that someone else signed it raises more questions.
“That should have raised doubt,” he said. “That was my premise.”
Although only 487 votes were counted from the 492 ballots cast, testimony showed improperly marked or blank ballots will not be tallied for a candidate, only marked as a vote cast.
Lewandowski said she’s pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“It would have been a very big expense for the county. Elections are expensive enough,” Lewandowski said. “It’s our standing we were going by Georgia election code and doing what the law allowed.”
Cogburn said he has filed a voter fraud complaint with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and is not disappointed by the judge’s ruling.
“Contesting an election has narrow rules and that’s what we used to bring it to light,” Cogburn said.
Cogburn alleges cases of voter fraud.
Lipsey did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Matt Carrothers, spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, said the office has received numerous complaints regarding the Gray election but did not specify an exact number.
“These are currently under review, which may ultimately result in a full-fledged investigation,” he said.
It is not known how long the process will take, but Carrothers said each complaint will be thoroughly reviewed.
Cogburn said he finds it difficult to believe that anyone would have left a ballot blank in a one-race runoff.
“This will be ongoing for months. It’s in the hands of the secretary of state,” Cogburn said. “I really feel this will change the landscape of Gray.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.