Augusta elections officials to scruntinize vacant lot voters

Richmond County elections officials are investigating a group of voters who don’t appear to live where they are registered.

At a meeting Friday night, board of elections members gave Executive Director Lynn Bailey a green light to scrutinize a list of voters whose addresses appear to be vacant lots or abandoned houses. Bailey said she will present a full report on her findings at the board’s January meeting, along with a plan of action on how to address the issue and improve the county voting rolls’ accuracy.

The board’s action was prompted by stories in The Augusta Chronicle that uncovered dozens of voters with ineligible addresses – some at vacant lots and others registered at business addresses.

The Chronicle shared its findings with Bailey, who began some initial inquiries this past week.

Bailey told board members that she was able to confirm that several of the voters on the Chronicle’s list were registered and voted from addresses that turned out to be vacant lots. She said a few of those voters have updated their addresses in recent months, but most have not.

One voter was stopped at the polls Tuesday and asked to update his address before casting a ballot in the runoff election for District 1 commissioner, Bailey told the board.

She said the voter declined to update his information and cast a provisional ballot instead.

“That address we have, in fact, been able to determine that is a vacant lot,” she said. “He did not avail himself of the opportunity to provide correct address information.”

Board members voted to reject the ballot based on the ineligible address before certifying the election results.

Bailey said the newspaper’s articles uncovered problems she wasn’t really aware of, but also gave her ideas about how the issue could be addressed.

“This has started a very interesting conversation with the code enforcement people and others about how we can use the data that exists to look into this,” she said.

The Chronicle’s investigation used Augusta government databases and matched them with voter registration data to find lists of voters with suspect addresses. Checks of the addresses found some registered at vacant lots and others who used a business address to vote. Georgia law requires voters to register at their place of residence.

Some of the voters interviewed by The Chronicle admitted to living in other counties or even outside the state.

Bailey said that during the past week she sought out more resources, lists of houses scheduled to be demolished by the city and information from developers in the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem areas, which have a high proportion of empty lots and boarded-up properties. She has since found more voters with questionable addresses.

Board member L.C. Myles said he is confident there is a way to use existing city property data to build a system that will screen ineligible addresses when people register to vote.

Myles said the trick is managing it and keeping it up to date so that when buildings are torn down or new ones are constructed, the information is reflected in the data.

“In January I am going to have a plan to put in place so we can handle this issue moving forward next year,” Bailey said.

Voters whose addresses are determined to be invalid, including those who registered at business addresses, will likely face a challenge before the board.

Voters can be stricken from the rolls, or if there appears to be an intent to defraud, their cases can be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office, officials said.

“The law is very specific in how the board of elections can proceed in these matters,” Bailey said.

Some Augusta voters use vacant lots as registration address

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