A Do-Over Do-Over: Georgia House Race to be Re-Run a Second Time

[Image via theladders]

Last July, I wrote about how voter misassignment errors led a Georgia judge to order a do-over of a primary in a state house race. Last week, the same judge ordered a second do-over – after another close result between the same two candidates – after evidence that the problem had occurred again. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more:

A judge on Friday ordered a rare second do-over election for a northeast Georgia House seat, finding that four voters didn’t live in the district, throwing its outcome into doubt.

The new election means that voters will return to the polls for a third time to decide between Republicans Dan Gasaway and Chris Erwin.

Erwin appeared to win the first redo of the election in December by just two votes, but Senior Superior Court Judge David Sweat decided Friday that four voters had moved out of House District 28 more than 30 days before the election. Because the contest was so close, the judge found that the four improper votes justified a new election.

“If you’re in an election, you should want to win it legally. We all should,” Gasaway said. “I don’t know that I’ll win, but if I win I want it to be a legal election, and if I lose I want it to be a legal election.”

Erwin, who took office in January, must step down while the outcome of the race remains in doubt, said Gasaway’s attorney, Jake Evans.

“We are certainly disappointed by today’s court decision overturning fair election results, but we look forward to one more opportunity to run and win this race for a third time in a row,” Erwin said.

The first time the candidates met in May’s Republican primary election, Erwin had a 67-vote lead until Gasaway discovered that mapping mistakes incorrectly placed dozens of Habersham County voters in the wrong House district. Sweat ordered a new election in September.

Then in the repeat Republican primary in December, Erwin held a two-vote lead. The certified vote count was 3,521-3,519.

But Gasaway sued again, alleging that 21 voters had illegally cast ballots, Evans said. The judge found that four of those voters were ineligible based on their testimony during a four-day trial this week.

“Getting a new election once is almost unheard of,” Evans said. “Getting a new election twice might have never been done. I’m proud of this legal win, and I’m very excited for Rep. Gasaway to have a fair shot.”

It’s unclear when the next election will be held. House District 28 covers about half of Habersham County, as well as Banks and Stephens counties. There’s no Democratic Party candidate in the race.

Once again, cases like this highlight the importance of good election geographic systems at the state and local level as promoted by the latest effort from the National States Geographic Information Council.

That said, it would be easy to cluck one’s tongue at this case, but I’ll repeat what I said last July:

I would be willing to bet that similar problems exist along the borders of many districts nationwide, given how difficult it can be to match political geography with residential addresses and other physical map features. There’s a reason why the “Election Administrator’s Prayer” asks that “the margins be wide”; you never know when a close election might bring problems like this to the surface. 

In short, local election officials’ best hope for avoiding a(nother) do-over might have more to do with the margin of victory than the assignment of voters on the margins of districts. Watch those lines – and stay tuned …

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