The Richmond County Board of Elections voted Monday to challenge the eligibility of 33 voters whose addresses of record are at businesses or vacant lots.
Executive Director Lynn Bailey presented members with two reports at the board’s monthly meeting: one that focuses on 32 voters who appeared to be registered at vacant lots and another list of 32 voters registered at known business addresses.
Most of these voters were discovered through an investigation by The Augusta Chronicle, which shared its findings with Bailey and the board.
Bailey explained that most of the voters on the vacant-lot list had updated their addresses to legitimate ones and that a few others were found to have structures on them owned by the Augusta Land Bank.
Bailey said her own efforts turned up six more voters who were registered at properties now used as parking lots by Augusta National Golf Club, one of which had since changed his address.
That left 12 voters from the vacant-lot list for the board to consider, she said.
“We have confirmed that there are no structures on these properties,” Bailey said.
She said she was still working to compare all voter addresses to those listed as vacant lots in the property database maintained by the Richmond County Tax Assessor’s Office. After an address is determined to be a vacant lot, it will be flagged in the voter registration files to prevent another person from registering there, she said.
Bailey said that with the large number of vacant and abandoned properties in the county, she expects there are more cases to be identified.
“The data is there,” she said. “We can do the comparison and probably find some more, quite frankly.”
As for the list of voters registered at business addresses, Bailey said it will be trickier to create a system to catch those because many people have business licenses at their home addresses.
“It will be worth it to ask the folks in Licensing and Inspections if there is a way to do that,” she said.
Of the 32 people on the list of business addresses, five had updated their address to their homes and two others, who live in South Carolina, had asked to be removed from the county voter rolls. She said the couple were registered in both states but did not appear to have voted twice in the same election.
There were also four people registered at a dentist’s office on Washington Road who were kept on the list of eligible voters because there was no concrete evidence they didn’t live there at least part of the time. Bailey said the family also has residences in Atlanta and Columbia
County but considered Augusta their home of record.
That left 21 voters from the business list for the board to consider, including a pair of restaurant owners who live in McDuffie County and another business owner who lives in Clarks Hill, S.C.
“If someone owns property in more than one place, is there anything wrong with them registering at their business address?” board member Chip Barbee asked.
According to Georgia law, there is, Bailey said.
“As far as Georgia law goes, your residence is where your habitat is fixed,” she said. “It’s where you lay your head.”
Board member Sherry Barnes moved that all 33 voters in question be sent letters notifying them that their registrations were being challenged and that they will have a hearing at the next board meeting, on Feb. 11. The motion was approved unanimously.
Bailey said the board can strike those voters from the rolls and if they determine some acted with intent to commit fraud, those cases can be forwarded to the Georgia secretary of state or the district attorney’s office.