All three Republican candidates in the contest for Forsyth County sheriff will appear on the July 31 ballot.
Despite what it viewed as a flaw in the process, the Forsyth County Board of Elections decided Tuesday not to challenge the candidacy of those who have qualified.
“Since it’s not one candidate … it’s all three of them and the Republican Party has certified them as being qualified, I don’t see that this board should take any action,” said member Doug Sorrells during a special called meeting.
All three candidates — Lauren McDonald, Duane Piper and incumbent Ted Paxton — qualified on time, but failed to provide a birth certificate and high school diploma as required.
Ethan Underwood, chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, which certifies local qualifying, said there was confusion last week at the qualifying booth.
“Most offices which require high school diplomas merely require candidates to certify via affidavit that they meet this requirement,” Underwood said. “It appears that some of the sheriff candidates were told by volunteers that copies of their diplomas were not necessary,” he said.
Underwood added that the qualifying guidebook also failed to mention that a birth certificate was required of candidates.
After qualifying ended at noon Friday, the party contacted the candidates about the missing documents, and all three have since delivered them.
All qualifying documents — including the birth certificates and diplomas — were delivered to the elections office before the noon Tuesday deadline.
“It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get the paperwork because it wasn’t required that we got the paperwork until today before noon,” said Donald Glover, elections board member. “[The Republican Party] admitting it wasn’t submitted on time really closes that issue, I think.”
While the elections board decided not to challenge the qualifying, Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard said any registered voter has until June 8, or two weeks after qualifying closed, to do so.
If a voter were to mount a challenge, Jarrard said, “We have to have a little bit of an evidentiary hearing to make a determination as to whether the qualifications have not been satisfied.”
The elections board would make the decision following the hearing. However, if one candidate is challenged, the same contention could be made against all three, since they failed to submit the same documentation.
“If that’s the case, you’d literally be without a qualified candidate at all,” Jarrard said. “We may have to open up the qualification period again.”
In either scenario, said Elections Supervisor Barbara Luth, it’s likely all three candidates’ names would appear on the ballot.
“I’m getting ready right now to send all the names to [Kennesaw State University] to be put on the ballot so that we can move forward,” she said after the meeting. “June 15th is the first day we have to do the mail-out balloting.”
No Democrats qualified to seek the post, so the July 31 primary most likely will decide the contest.
The birth certificate issue surfaced Friday afternoon, when Piper’s eligibility was called into question by Paxton, who had heard Piper didn’t submit one. Further investigation revealed none of the three candidates had.
A spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s elections division said not all races require a birth certificate, but county sheriff candidates must submit one to the local party by the end of qualifying.
According to Tim Fleming, if that requirement isn’t met, “that’s going to be a call for the local elections [office], and there could be a challenge to the candidacy.”
Prior to the election board meeting Tuesday, Paxton noted he had “provided all necessary and required documents by the statute” when he first ran for sheriff in 2000.
Paxton, who won that contest, added that he was not asked to produce the documents for his successful 2004 and 2008 re-election bids.
After the meeting, Paxton said he respected the board’s decision and had no plans to challenge it.
“We’re moving forward,” he said.
McDonald agreed, saying the candidates have “got a lot of time invested in this campaign and financially a lot of money invested in this campaign and they should let the voters decide.”
“Whatever mistakes were made in this qualifying process, we need to let the votes decide,” he said. “A voter has the right to challenge that decision because the law allows them to do that, just like a voter has the decision to vote for or against a candidate.”
Prior to the board meeting, Piper said he thought there had been “some confusion over what was necessary and what was not.”
“When I was there on [May 23], I submitted everything they said I needed … I was sure we had everything,” he said. “Apparently, some differences come up later.”
After the meeting, Piper said he thought Underwood and the local party had handled the situation well.
“I think it’s a settled issue and that the voters will now get to decide who their next sheriff is,” he said.
Piper added that he didn’t think anyone would challenge the election board’s determination, but if so he “would be very confident their decision would stand.”
Richard Ward, vice chairman of the Republican Party thanked the elections board for accepting the qualified candidates and said he was “terribly sorry this happened.”
“The voters are the ones that should decide, not some technicality issue,” he said.