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Forest Park candidates file election complaint

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The head of Clayton County's Democratic Party has filed a formal complaint with the Georgia Secretary of State on behalf of three Forest Park candidates, who say they believe some voters are unfairly being denied the right to vote.

Kimberly James, Karen Brandee Williams, and Christine Ellington -- all members of the Clayton County Democratic Party -- are claming voter suppression and sloppiness on the part of Forest Park election officials.

Democratic Party Chairman Kevin Thomas said he sent a letter last week to the Secretary of State's Office on behalf of James, Williams and Ellington, requesting that the office monitor today's election in Forest Park. At the heart of several accusations being levied against the city are alleged "discrepancies with the absentee ballots," Thomas said.

"They [James, Williams and Ellington] collectively got together and asked for a letter to be drafted," Thomas said. "I know that there were a lot of discrepancies, and the candidates have been getting affidavits from people. I know that there were several who requested [absentee ballots] and didn't get any ballots. There was one gentleman who got two ballots. I know that there were people who received their ballot, and the yellow envelope for them to send back their ballot was already sealed.

"I can't say this was done maliciously, but I know that it has happened," he said. "The state found it necessary to monitor [the election] and from what I understand, will be in attendance at the election."

James, Williams, and Ellington, are candidates for the city's Ward 1 council seat; Ward 2 council seat; and the mayor's office, respectively.

Georgia Secretary of State Spokesperson Matt Carrothers confirmed Monday that there is "an open investigation in Forest Park," but said he was unable to "discuss the details of an open investigation." Carrothers added that monitors will be "strategically employed" throughout the state to address election-day issues.

A key part of the complaint to the Secretary of State was an Oct. 23 letter from Forest Park Election Superintendent David Painter to Forest Park resident, Dock Hicks. In the letter, Painter states that Hicks had requested an absentee ballot on Sept. 30 and voted in advance at Forest Park City Hall on Oct. 21, using a touch-screen machine.

Painter told Hicks that he "must return [his] unmarked absentee ballot to city hall, on or before, November 3, 2009," and that "Failure to do so could result in criminal charges being filed."

According to a sworn affidavit signed Oct. 26 at Forest Park City Hall, Hicks claims to have never received his absentee ballot in the mail. Hicks could not be reached for comment on Monday night.

"When they [voters] have been told that they are double voting and they have been sent threatening letters, that changes the outcome [of the election]," said Ellington. She equated the letter and other actions of the city to "deliberate vote suppression," "voter intimidation," and "reckless election administration."

Painter said the city has made "reasonable efforts" to ensure "as many voters as possible" are able to participate in the Nov. 3 election. He said he believes James, Williams, and Ellington are overreacting to matters that could be solved by communicating with the city.

"He [Hicks] was just advised to what the law is," Painter said. "Is that a threat? I don't think so. All they have to do is sign an affidavit saying that they didn't receive a ballot to satisfy the city's requirement [to vote]. We're not likely to send it to the DA (District Attorney) to say this person tried to vote twice. The DA's got bigger problems than that. It would most likely just be set aside.

"When the voter has requested an absentee ballot, they are put on the elector's list as AB (for absentee ballot)," he added. "If they show up at the polls on Tuesday [today], they are going to be asked, where is it?"

Painter added that people can call Forest Park City Hall to confirm if their absentee ballot has been received by the city, but said "nobody has done that."

James said that she has tracked a number of voters who have had problems receiving their absentee ballots. "We started getting concerned that people were applying for these ballots and not getting them," James said. "We felt like if Forest Park was following the rules ... they would have said something in the advance voting [to Hicks]. [Saying so] after the fact lets us know that they don't really have their stuff together."

"I'm very concerned," said Williams. "Part of the reason why people don't vote [is] because of a lack of confidence in the people behind the scenes. We don't want people to not come to the polls because they fear being locked up. This is a prime example of what's been going on that needs to stop."

The Forest Park municipal election will take place today from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., at the Forest Park Recreation Center, located at 803 Forest Parkway.