Criminal activity alleged in LaVista Hills vote
This story has been updated.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is probing irregularities in the LaVista Hills cityhood vote, Decaturish has learned.
Officials from the GBI and Kennesaw State University visited the DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Office Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5, according to Director Maxine Daniels. The Secretary of State’s Office has confirmed it asked the GBI to look into the matter.
In a statement, Secretary of State Brian Kemp said, “I take any allegation of elections fraud seriously. Our office has opened an official investigation of possible criminal activity during the Nov. 3 elections in DeKalb County. Given the serious nature of these allegation, I have asked the center for elections at Kennesaw State University and the GBI to assist in this investigation. I asked the GBI to assist due to an alleged theft of secured memory cards and fraud allegations. Once completed, the investigation will be presented to the State Elections Board.”
Daniels said there was a complaint about irregularities, but she did not know the nature of the complaint.
“The GBI took our materials,” Daniels said. “They took our machine and a server.”
WSB-TV first reported that the “second-in-command” of the office, Leonard Piazza, was placed on administrative leave after he complained about irregularities. Prior to the WSB story’s publication, Decaturish asked Daniels if any employees had been placed on administrative leave related to the election. She said at the time no employees had been placed on leave.
When we followed up with Daniels to ask why WSB-TV was reporting someone had in fact been placed on administrative leave, Daniels said she had answered truthfully. She said Piazza has been placed on administrative leave for a personnel issue unrelated to the election.
“He was not put on administrative leave for something that happened on Election Day,” Daniels said. “I’m not allowed to say why he was put on administrative leave. It has to do with his reaction to some things that happened in the office.”
Decaturish received a copy of a Nov. 4 email from Piazza to LaVista Hills political consultant Steve Schultz.
“Upon questioning the integrity of the LaVista Hills Incorporation Ballot Question earlier today, I was dismissed from work and subsequently placed on paid administrative leave,” Piazza wrote. “As such, I am unable to answer your questions at this time.”
Attempts to reach Piazza have been unsuccessful.
The news about the criminal investigation follows an earlier report from a supporter of LaVista Hills cityhood who said the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office has opened an inquiry into the results of the Nov. 3 election.
The LaVista Hills proposal lost by 136 votes. There were some problems with voting in split precincts reported on Nov. 3. According to 11 Alive, some voters were accidentally excluded from voting on LaVista Hills – about 45 voters – but were later added to the list of people who could vote for or against the new city.
LaVista Hills Alliance Chairperson Mary Kay Woodworth said earlier today, Nov. 5, it was her understanding that the Secretary of State was looking into the election.
“All I know is that Secretary of State has opened inquiry,” Woodworth said. “(State) Sen. (Fran) Millar has asked for any information from residents who had problems with voting. I think that a legislator may have to ask for a recount, since it’s a ballot question, not a candidate.”
After hearing that the inquiry went much deeper than that, Woodworth said she was troubled by the allegations.
“It’s like the Twilight Zone,” Woodworth said. “I would say it’s unbelievable, but this is DeKalb County so it’s not unbelievable. That’s not a very good reaction. I certainly hope that this is not true, because this to me is one of the fundamental rights of citizens of this county, to be able to vote and have an honest election. If there was indeed any kind of fraudulent behavior, it is absolutely disgusting.”
Marjorie Snook, president of DeKalb Strong, the main group opposed to cityhood, said she’d raised concerns about voting irregularities on Election Day.
“If there are allegations of irregularities in the election, then we strongly support a full investigation by the GBI,” she said. “I was on the phone all Tuesday morning when we first got reports from people that they wanted to vote and were being told they couldn’t. I was on the phone with Maxine Daniels and tried to alert the Elections Division that there were people missing from the voter rolls. We had looked through the voter rolls before the election. We were concerned there would be mistakes in this election. We had gone through the list of addresses that were going to be able to vote on this, and told people about addresses we found. We tried very hard to avoid there being this kind of confusion in the election.”
She said she’d heard from news reports about criminal allegations, but didn’t know any specifics.
“The only real detail that I heard was an unsecured memory card that was found somewhere, and I take that dead seriously,” Snook said. “The integrity of elections is more important than winning or losing elections. I was glad to hear that the GBI is going to look into it.”
In a story that ran on Nov. 4, LaVista Hills YES president Allen Venet said it was his understanding that only the governor, lieutenant governor or speaker of the house can request a recount on a referendum.
Daniels said she has not received a request for a recount, but added that can’t be done until the election results are certified on Nov. 6.
Millar, R-40, told Decaturish that he has received reports of voting problems but has directed callers to the Secretary of State’s Office. He said he has not spoken with the Secretary of State’s Office about the issue.
“You can ask for a recount. I think you’d have to have a good reason to do it other than the fact you didn’t like the outcome,” Millar said.
Millar sounded doubtful that a recount would change the outcome of Tuesday’s election.
He said, “I know there was some ballot issue at one precinct, but is it going to be more than 136 votes?”