Don’t look for Deborah Pierce at 112 Telfair St. You won’t find her.
You won’t speak with Regina Walker at 1005 Bennett Lane either, and never mind calling on Alfred Lofton at 1411 Clay St.
They don’t live there. No one does.
All three are registered voters who managed to make it to the polls this year, but like dozens of Richmond County voters, they all have addresses of record that turn out to be vacant lots or boarded-up houses.
A sample analysis of registered voters in Richmond County found more than two dozen individuals whose home of record was an empty lot or an uninhabitable structure.
Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey said she has no way of knowing whether a voter’s address is a vacant lot.
“That is a tricky thing to flag,” said Bailey, whose staff regularly updates voter registration lists with changes of address. “The lot may be flagged right now, but in six months it may not be vacant lot anymore.”
The Augusta Chronicle’s research found voters registered at empty lots and abandoned houses across the county by comparing voter registration information to county property records and Licensing and Inspection dates on abandoned properties.
Using similar techniques, the Chronicle has previously uncovered numerous voters registered at business addresses, including several who live in other counties and even outside the state.
About half of those registered at vacant lots and boarded-up homes were found to be in Commission District 1, which is currently in the midst of a runoff election between incumbent Matt Aitken and challenger Bill Fennoy.
That could be because the district has more vacant lots and empty houses than any other, something that Fennoy has made an issue of during his campaign.
“That, to me, is really disheartening,” said Aitken, on learning about the Chronicle’s research. “I think this is a very serious issue.”
Aitken noted that voters are required to present a valid ID and verify their information when they go to the polls. He said voters need to understand that they have a responsibility to keep their registration information up to date and to follow the law when they exercise their right to vote.
“Think about the price some have paid to get those rights,” he said. “We can’t take that lightly.”
Fennoy said if voters are registered at invalid addresses, it is something the Board of Elections should investigate.
“You have no way of knowing how many there are or who they are voting for,” he said. “I think if it is a big enough issue the Board of Elections needs to become more proactive about it.”
Whenever a person casts a vote, they have to sign an affidavit swearing to their identity and to their current address. Intentionally providing false information can be considered false swearing, which can be prosecuted as a felony in Georgia, Bailey said.
Bailey said someone would have to challenge the vote and the board would investigate to determine whether the voter should be removed from the rolls. Violations of voting laws would be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office, she said.
It is possible that a handful of voters could sway the outcome of a local race. In 2005, District 5 Commissioner Bobby Hankerson lost his bid for re-election by only 11 votes.
With more than 14,000 registered voters in District 1, a few votes probably won’t matter all that much. Bailey expects at least 3,200 votes to be cast in Tuesday’s runoff.
The last time Fennoy and Aitken faced off in 2009, the margin of victory was 230 votes.
“I don’t think this race is going to be won or lost by two dozen voters,” Fennoy said.