More than 79,000 people cast votes in Richmond County’s general election on Tuesday.
But not all voted where they should have.
Even with poll workers checking IDs against voter registration lists and poll watchers watching the polls workers, some ineligible voters still slip through the system, casting votes in the wrong polling place – and even in the wrong county or state.
Greg Driggers, for example, lives in Augusta Commission District 8, but he votes in District 4.
He’s unapologetic about it.
“I don’t get mail at my house, and I never have,” Driggers said. “All my bills come to my business address.”
Driggers, who owns AAA Gun & Pawn and other business property on Tobacco Road, said he knows he probably should be registered to vote at his home on Rheney Road, but he has always voted where he spends the majority of his time, where his business interest lies. No one has ever challenged him on it.
“I’m here 60 hours a week,” he said. “If anybody ever says anything to me about it, I’m putting a camper out back.”
Driggers falls into an obscure category in the ongoing national debate about voter fraud and voting ID laws – taxpayers, property owners and otherwise upstanding citizens who don’t vote where they live.
Lynn Bailey, the executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections, said that her office has several safeguards and checks that help eliminate ineligible voters from the rolls. Elections workers regularly remove convicted felons and dead voters, as well as those who move outside of the county, she said.
They don’t, however, really have a way to check to see whether someone is registered at an address that isn’t actually a residence, such as a commercial property, she said.
“We don’t really have a mechanism for that,” she said, explaining that when election workers do get information that an address is invalid, they can manually flag it in their files.
“When it comes to voter registration, we really try to give the voter the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
Driggers isn’t the only business owner in Richmond County who isn’t registered at his home address, but at least he does live in the county. There are others who vote in Richmond County but live in other parts of the state.
A DATABASE ANALYSIS by The Augusta Chronicle found numerous voters registered at business addresses, including some who live outside Richmond County.
“We actually live in Atlanta,” said Florence Rabin, the office manager for husband Albert’s dental practice on Washington Road.
The Rabins have worked in Augusta for years. They own a home in the West Lake neighborhood in Columbia County but now consider midtown Atlanta their home, Rabin said. She said they have continued to vote in Augusta because that is where they spend most of their time. Their adult children, Isaac and Sarah, also are registered at the dental practice address, according to state records.
They drive to Augusta on Monday and stay through Friday most weeks, she said.
“It’s crazy, but it is our life,” said Rabin.
They aren’t the only busy people who work and vote in Augusta but rest their heads elsewhere.
Amy Bailey said she and her husband, Craig, have voted in Richmond County since they opened their first restaurant in Augusta in 1983. After they opened Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar on Washington Road, they worked and lived there, maintaining an apartment upstairs, which they still use from time to time. Over the years they acquired more property in other counties and opened a second restaurant in Evans.
In 1996, they bought a home in McDuffie County, where they’ve raised their seven children. Bailey said they’ve continued to vote in Richmond County because it is the place they really consider home.
“We actually looked into this not too long ago,” Bailey said, explaining that they consulted an attorney friend about the issue. “We wanted to make sure we were doing what was right. We were told just keep doing what we were doing.”
The Baileys might not have been given the best advice, though.
According to state law, one of the standard rules of residence says, “the specific address in the county or municipality in which a person has declared a homestead exemption, if a homestead exemption has been claimed, shall be deemed the person’s residence address.”
That would seem to apply to their home on Caladium Lane in Thomson. According to McDuffie County records, they have qualified for a homestead exemption on the property. Bailey said she wasn’t aware of the requirement but would consult the elections office about it.
“If that isn’t right, then we need to take a look at it and correct it,” she said.
LYNN BAILEY SAID if someone’s voter registration address in invalid, it can be challenged before the county Board of Elections, which can strike ineligible voters from the rolls.
Such a challenge occurred last month.
Representatives of True the Vote, a national organization that supports voter ID laws and seeks to ensure accuracy and reliability of voter registration lists, challenged 37 voters who were registered at business addresses – primarily mini-storage businesses and a UPS Store in Daniel Village.
The Board of Elections upheld the challenges in 33 cases, and the voters were removed from rolls. Lynn Bailey said such cases are serious matters but are a small percentage of the more than 109,000 registered voters in the county.
Since the time the voters were removed, Bailey said, most of the cases have been determined to be “benign mistakes” related to people using a mailing address to register. None seemed to be a deliberate attempt to commit voting fraud, she said.
The Chronicle’s research found others that were registered at business addresses, such as a man registered at a car lot on Greene Street and another registered at a convenience store on Reynolds Street. Efforts to contact these men were not successful.
Dallas Simon Jr. was reached at his home in McCormick County, S.C. His voter registration lists 2225 Wheeless Road in Augusta as his address, but Simon confirmed that was his business, not his home. Simon said he maintains a Georgia driver’s license because he said it is a necessary requirement to own and operate a car dealership in the state.
“I can’t vote in South Carolina, so I vote in Georgia,” he explained. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to vote at all.”
Records confirm that Simon voted at least three times this year in Richmond County.
Lynn Bailey said although some business owners might have what they think are good reasons to register at their businesses, that does not mean they are valid. She said deliberately misstating where you live could be considered “false swearing” under state law, which is a felony. Evidence that someone has intended to voted fraudulently would be forwarded to the district attorney and the Georgia secretary of state for investigation, she said.
LINDA BROWN, THE state leader of True the Vote, said no matter how few the numbers, every case of voter fraud matters. The organization had poll watchers in 20 polling places on Tuesday, watching for any voting irregularities.
“They do have an effect on elections,” she said. “These are important things, and they add up, don’t they?”
Some elections, especially on the local level, are indeed decided by a handful of votes. In 2005, District 5 Commissioner Bobby Hankerson lost his bid for re-election by only 11 votes.
The Aug. 21 Democratic runoff for Richmond County sheriff was another close election. Richard Roundtree defeated Scott Peebles by only 455 votes out of more than 26,000 cast.
Shane and Sarah Thompson went to the polls to support Peebles in that race, but they had to cross the Savannah River to do it. Although the Thompsons live in a home on River Oak Drive in North Augusta, they are registered to vote in Richmond County. Shane’s voter registration lists his address at 725 Greene St., a property owned by his father, Donnie Thompson. Sarah’s voter registration address is 2635 Washington Road, the address of Windsor Jewelers, also owned by her father-in-law.
Shane Thompson explained that the couple also have an apartment at the Greene Street address, where they stay some nights. He said that before they married his wife used Windsor Jewelers’ address as a place to receive mail when she was out of the country, and she hasn’t changed it.
“She’s not a voter,” he said. “I had to get her to vote in the runoff.”
Voting history information confirms that. Sarah Thompson has voted in only two Georgia elections since 2004, while her husband has voted in at least seven, including the runoff.
They did, however, vote in one South Carolina election in November 2010, according to Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the South Carolina State Election Commission.
Whitmire said Shane Thompson registered to vote in South Carolina in December 2007 and his wife registered in January 2008.
Shane Thompson said he didn’t recall voting in South Carolina, but he does remember that in August his wife inquired at the polls in Georgia about changing her address.
“They told her she should wait and do it later because it would mess things up for the November election,” he said.
Lynn Bailey said she “could not imagine a scenario” in which that would happen, but she wasn’t at the polling place that day. She said the procedure is to ask the voter to immediately correct the records to keep voter rolls accurate.
Whitmire said he has seen situations where voters register in the wrong precincts, but not one like this.
“I’ve never seen a confirmed case where a person is voting in two states,” he said.
He said that according to South Carolina law, voters must swear that their listed address is their “only place of residence.” Failure to do so could be prosecuted as perjury, he said.
“It is really simple,” Whitmire said. “You need to register where you live.”