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Elections board moves ahead with challenge to more than 5,000 registrations

More than 5,000 voters who a state lawmaker has said likely no longer live in the county will have their registrations challenged but will still be able to cast ballots in the Jan. 5 runoff if they do still live in the county.

At a special called meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 22, the Forsyth County Board Voter Registartions and Elections voted 3-2, with Chief Registrar and Chairwoman Barbara Luth and Republican members Joel Natt and Carla Radzikinas in favor and Democratic members Matthew Blender and Randy Ingram opposed, to move forward with a challenge from District 26 state Rep. Marc Morris to 5,128 voter registrations that he said were for individuals who had likely moved out of the county according to information from a national voter database.

“All we’re requesting is for you to take a look at this from the standpoint of reasonable grounds,” Morris said. “I am not asking for you to remove one person from our database today; all we’re simply asking is that if someone appears here and they ... have changed their address and we believe might be living somewhere else, we’re just simply asking that you prove that, much like going to a bank and cashing a check.”

Morris said he and others who compiled the information tried to weed out those who might be attending school out of state, are members of the military and other circumstances from those who moved. 

Before the board took action, Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard gave a presentation, where he said the Official Code of Georgia allows voters to challenge others registrations.

“At least in the challenger’s documentation they have provided, they want to emphasize that they are bringing this challenge under [OCGA] 21-2-230, contesting the right of other electors to vote as opposed to their eligibility to on the rolls, which is actually a product of a different statute, which is [OCGA] 21-2-229,” Jarrard said. 

Jarrard said the approval would mean the voters in question would still be able to vote in the election but would have to go through an appeal hearing. If the hearing finds the voter had moved, they would not be allowed to vote. 

“The board will notify the poll officers of the challenged electors' precinct or the absentee ballot precincts of the elector’s challenge status. If practical, notify the challenged elector and allow them an opportunity to answer. No. 3, if the challenger appears at a polling place… to vote, the board must give them the opportunity to appear before the board and answer the grounds to the challenge.”

Like their parties’ board members, the local parties also disagreed with the decision. 

“We support our Board of Elections decision to accept the challenge of over 5,100 voters that may not live in Forsyth County any longer,” the Forsyth County Republican Party said in Facebook posts. “These voters have submitted a change of address request, which is a good indicator they have changed residence. None of these people will be removed from the voter roll and all will be allowed to vote. However, before their vote can be officially counted, they will be asked to verify they are still a Forsyth resident.”

In their own post, the Forsyth County Democrats said the challenges were “without merit, and are an obvious attempt to intimidate Georgia voters.”

“We are deeply concerned that the Forsyth Board of Elections is giving credence to right-wing, out-of-state groups trying to block Georgians from voting,” the post said. “Both Georgia and federal law make it clear that these mass, coordinated challenges are simply not allowed in the middle of the election. Even the Republican Secretary of State said there was no widespread evidence of voter fraud in Georgia elections, but outside groups saw the incredible mobilization of Georgia voters as a threat to the status quo, rather than the basic purpose of a functional democracy.”