Ga. high court lets 2018 lieutenant governor election result stand

    The marbled building on downtown Atlanta's Mitchell Street wrapped up its run as the home of the state’s highest courts this week. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

    The Georgia Supreme Court Thursday ruled against a nonprofit’s suit challenging the state’s 2018 lieutenant governor election results, which had significantly fewer votes than other statewide races.

    The court’s unanimous decision denied an appeal lodged by the Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance, finding it didn’t have enough evidence to put the election winner in question. Republican candidate Geoff Duncan edged out Democratic opponent Sarah Riggs Amico to become the state’s lieutenant governor this year.

    Tens of thousands fewer votes were cast in the lieutenant governor’s election compared to seven other down-ballot statewide races in the general election. The coalition’s lawsuit, filed shortly after last November’s election, sought access to the voting machines in use since 2002 to determine if programming errors or human tampering affected the final tally. Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs permitted coalition representatives to inspect the machines, but not to the extent that the nonprofit requested. Even if some votes were not counted, Grubbs said, it wasn’t enough to change the outcome.

    The high court affirmed Grubbs acted within her judicial discretion when she set restrictions for the ballot machine inspections, limits the coalition opposed in their suit.

    “To prevail on such a claim, a party contesting an election must therefore offer evidence – not merely theories or conjecture – that places in doubt the result of an election,” the ruling says.

    The coalition is pursuing an unrelated case in federal court that aims to block the state’s rollout of new ballot machines, said Marilyn Marks, the nonprofit’s executive director. New ballot machines are set for a small round of pilot testing next week as the state prepares to have them ready in all 159 Georgia counties in time for the March 2020 Presidential primary.

    The court’s decision Thursday is a setback for voters and watchdog groups promoting more transparency in Georgia’s election system, Marks said.

    “The problem here is that for Georgia’s elections, the court is telling us that essentially a voter cannot have any oversight,” Marks said. “You just have to trust whatever numbers come out of that black box.”

    Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger vouches for the security and accuracy of the new machines, purchased this year from Denver-based company Dominion Voting Systems for $107 million. In a statement Thursday, he praised the court’s ruling Thursday and criticized the groups who sued as partisans.

    “I call on these activists to stop wasting taxpayer money by trying to use the courts to accomplish their policy preferences,” Raffensperger said.

    The ruling Thursday follows U.S. Northern District Court Judge Amy Totenberg’s order in August that barred the state from using the old ballot machines after this year. The coalition is also asking the federal court to issue a preliminary injunction to block the new machines in favor of a handwritten ballot.

    Beau Evans
    Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College.