LaVista Hills supporters suspend campaign activities, indicate lawsuit unlikely

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 12, 2015
Mary Kay Woodworth talks with fellow supporters during the Lavista Hills viewing party at Sprig on Tuesday. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Mary Kay Woodworth talks with fellow supporters during the Lavista Hills viewing party at Sprig on Tuesday.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

The LaVista Hills Alliance has turned over reports of voting irregularities to the Secretary of State’s office and will cease campaign activities until the investigation into the Nov. 3 referendum is completed.

Supporters of the proposed city of LaVista Hills, which was defeated in the referendum, indicated in a press release that a legal challenge to the election result is unlikely.

In the press release, LaVista Hills Alliance Chairperson Mary Kay Woodworth said the group learned that unsuccessful court challenges to elections exact a hefty toll from the group challenging it. According to the press release, “Unsuccessful election challenges require the person challenging the election to pay his or her own costs and attorney’s fees as well as those of the defendant election board.”

“It quickly became apparent that the effect of the law—if not the intent—is to discourage aggrieved voters from contesting elections,” Woodworth said in the press release. “The exposure for a grassroots group of citizens is prohibitive. Ensuring free and fair elections is not something our laws should deter.”

The group had recently hired attorney Douglas Chalmers Jr., who specializes in political law and litigation. Investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Secretary of State’s Office are continuing to probe whether there were any irregularities in the Nov. 3 vote that rose to the level of criminal conduct.

The investigation was sparked by allegations raised by Leonard Piazza, the second-highest ranking official at DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections Office. Piazza was placed on administrative leave, which he claims was in retaliation for questioning the integrity of the Nov. 3 election. His boss, Maxine Daniels, said he was placed on leave due to an unrelated personnel issue.

DeKalb County elections officials recently added 19 votes to the total cast in the LaVista Hills referendum. Of those 19 additional votes, 11 voted “No” increasing the separation between “Yes” and “No” votes to 139 votes from 136. Total votes cast in the election increased from 13,714 to 13,733.

The LaVista Hills Alliance said it uncovered numerous potential violations in the Nov. 3 election, including:

– Precinct voting locations whose doors were locked.

– An unsecured voting-machine memory card being removed without authorization from a polling location.

– Absentee ballots that were never sent to military personnel, despite requests made in plenty of time for the election.

– Ballots being omitted from the results certified by the county.

– Inappropriate handling of absentee and provisional ballots.

– Voters, whose registrations were challenged, being unable to cast provisional ballots.

– Voters in the footprint of the proposed city of LaVista Hills being prevented from voting on the cityhood referendum.

– Voters outside of the boundary area being permitted to vote on the referendum.

The press release also blasted cityhood opponents.

“Unfortunately, people opposed to cityhood and to improving our community through local representation chose to play fast and loose with the truth.  Whether it was providing bogus data about the city’s feasibility or scaring seniors into the false belief that they would lose their tax exemptions, they left no trick unturned,” Woodworth said in the press release. “Sadly, thousands of people in our community will be hurt as a result of their regrettable behavior.”

The press release also thanked volunteers and supporters who campaigned in favor of the new city.

“We are enormously grateful to the nearly 50 percent of our community who took a stand against county corruption and who voted for a brighter future for our neighborhoods,” Woodworth said. “Although we could not overcome pernicious outside influences, such as those reported in the media in recent days, we remain proud of efforts which maintained the highest standards of integrity and truthfulness.”

Here is the full press release from the LaVista Hills Alliance:

ATLANTA (Nov. 12, 2015) – The LaVista Hills Alliance announced today that it is turning over to the Secretary of State all of the data it has gathered since last Tuesday about voting irregularities on Election Day in DeKalb County.

Mary Kay Woodworth, chair of the LaVista Hills Alliance, said that regardless of the final outcome of the vote, the cityhood group wants to ensure that the Nov. 3 election was both free and fair.

“We have the utmost confidence in the Secretary of State’s office to get to the bottom of this,” she said. “We just want to know if we had a fair and honest election.”

Reports began coming into the Alliance on Election Day, citing numerous issues with voters trying to cast their ballots.  Among the reported issues have been:

– Precinct voting locations whose doors were locked.

– An unsecured voting-machine memory card being removed without authorization from a polling location.

– Absentee ballots that were never sent to military personnel, despite requests made in plenty of time for the election.

– Ballots being omitted from the results certified by the county.

– Inappropriate handling of absentee and provisional ballots.

– Voters, whose registrations were challenged, being unable to cast provisional ballots.

– Voters in the footprint of the proposed city of LaVista Hills being prevented from voting on the cityhood referendum.

– Voters outside of the boundary area being permitted to vote on the referendum.

Woodworth noted that her group had completed its work and that it would await the results of the ongoing investigation by the Secretary of State.

“It is too early to know the conclusion of the Secretary’s investigation,” she said. “This effort has been about the community from the beginning, and so we await confirmation of the voters’ decision.”

Woodworth noted that she was disappointed with the large influx of outside money into the opposition coffers during the final days of the campaign as well as the false information thrust at voters from anti-city elements.

“Unfortunately, people opposed to cityhood and to improving our community through local representation chose to play fast and loose with the truth.  Whether it was providing bogus data about the city’s feasibility or scaring seniors into the false belief that they would lose their tax exemptions, they left no trick unturned,” she said. “Sadly, thousands of people in our community will be hurt as a result of their regrettable behavior.”

Woodworth expressed concern about what her group discovered after attorneys reviewed state election law related to the case: unsuccessful election challenges require the person challenging the election to pay his or her own costs and attorney’s fees as well as those of the defendant election board.

“It quickly became apparent that the effect of the law—if not the intent—is to discourage aggrieved voters from contesting elections,” she said. “The exposure for a grassroots group of citizens is prohibitive. Ensuring free and fair elections is not something our laws should deter.”

Woodworth also expressed her deep appreciation to voters, volunteers and other cityhood supporters.

“We are enormously grateful to the nearly 50 percent of our community who took a stand against county corruption and who voted for a brighter future for our neighborhoods,” she said. “Although we could not overcome pernicious outside influences, such as those reported in the media in recent days, we remain proud of efforts which maintained the highest standards of integrity and truthfulness.”

Woodworth noted that the Alliance will suspend further campaign activities until the Office of the Secretary of State releases the results of its investigation.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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