The Georgia Secretary of State’s office is investigating the Sandy Springs City Council District 3 special election, slated for May 24, for possible polling place notice violations.
The complaint was filed May 20 by the Secretary of State’s office itself, according to a case report provided by the office. The report classifies the complaint as “Elections-Polling Place Change-No Notice” and describes the complaint as, “Sandy Springs-Precinct Notifications and locations.”
Candice Broce, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said she could not provide any further information about the complaints and said there is not a specific timeline for completing the investigation. She said the state investigator can submit his findings to the state Election Board, which would rule on the case and could dismiss the case, issue a “letter of instruction,” or forward the case to the state Attorney General’s office for legal action.
The city has been informed by the Secretary of State’s office about the complaint, but not its details or who filed it, said city spokesperson Sharon Kraun. She said the city has not seen the case report Broce provided to Reporter Newspapers. However, the Secretary of State’s office has requested some election information from the city, and “we’re going to provide them with everything they’re requesting,” Kraun said.
Kraun emphasized that the city has worked with the Secretary of State’s office and Fulton County to organize the election, which is the first election the decade-old city has run by itself. “We’re confident in our system,” she said.
The city has not received any resident complaints about the special election, Kraun said. “We haven’t had somebody seriously complaining,” she said. “We’ve had some folks ask about [the election], but no one saying, ‘This is awful’ and walk[ing] away.”
The special election will be held May 24 as scheduled, said Kraun. Five candidates—Chris Burnett, Brian Eufinger, Joe Housman, Suzi Voyles and Larry Young—are vying for the council seat in the special election.
Since the city set the special election on March 29, city officials have acknowledged the election is unusual and may be confusing to voters. The City Council special election is the same day as the state primary election, but is operated totally separately by the city at a single polling location. For advance voting, that polling place was the Fulton County North Annex on a slightly different schedule and in a different room than state primary advance voting. On Election Day, all city special election voting is at Hammond Park’s Round Program Building. Neither polling place is in City Council District 3, according to a city map.
The city was required to hold a special election when City Council member Graham McDonald resigned from the District 3 seat in March with more than a year left in his term. Normally, the county could host a city election at the normal polling places, but the law requires a 90-day notification period for that to happen. For example, the city considered holding the special election on Nov. 8, which met the 90-day notification requirement and would have let the county run the election.
However, the city decided that it was more important to fill the District 3 seat as soon as possible, and that it made sense to line up with the May 24 state election date. But that meant the city could not meet the 90-day notification period. Instead, the city was forced to run the special election itself at totally separate polling places. The city chose to have only a single polling place due to expense, the challenge of finding enough poll workers, and conflicts with polling places already reserved by the county as state primary polls. One concern officials voiced was the potential of opening several polls, but then failing to staff them on Election Day and drawing a state investigation.
In approving the special election date and process, Mayor Rusty Paul and the City Council repeatedly acknowledged potential confusion and debated the balance between accessibility and the challenges of expense and staffing. The city later added one weekend day of advance voting at the urging of City Council member Andy Bauman.
To explain the special election, the city issued a press release the night it set the election date and set up a detailed web page at sandyspringsga.gov/vote.
As of May 17, 623 ballots had been cast in the special election’s advance voting, City Clerk Michael Casey reported at that night’s City Council meeting. Mayor Paul said at the meeting that was relatively good turnout for a special election, and Kraun later said it exceeded the city’s projections.
If a run-off election is required in the City Council race, it is scheduled to operate in a similar, separate way. The run-off, slated for June 21, but both advance voting and Election Day voting would take place only at the Hammond Park Round Building, according to Kraun. That June 21 date is different from the state run-off election date, which would be in July.
Corrected version: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect run-off election date that had been provided by the city.