Originally created 07/10/98

County has too many voters



CRAWFORDVILLE, Ga. -- Georgia's least populous county has more registered voters than eligible residents.

That perplexing discrepancy disturbs people like Lois Richards, a retired probate judge challenging Taliaferro County's registration policies.

"We got people who haven't lived here in 15 years coming by and registering for absentee ballots," she said. "There's probably hundreds of them who shouldn't be on the list."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county's population is 1,835 -- including 530 residents younger than 18.

The difference -- 1,305 -- isn't enough to account for the 1,357 people registered to vote.

In most counties, 40 to 60 percent of the population registers, meaning that Taliaferro -- if considered on the upper end of average -- would have only as many as 1,100 registered voters.

Taliaferro County Commission Chairman Charles Ware said he supports Chief Registrar Edwin Sigman's registration policies.

"I say the census report is wrong, and we need to get that corrected," he said.

Ms. Richards, who is white, is part of a conspiracy to keep blacks out of elected positions, said Mr. Ware, who is black.

"You got 832 black, 505 white and 20 `other' on the voting list," he said. "Does that tell you what their problem is? It's obvious to me what their problem is. It's a conspiracy."

Ms. Richards, however, believes people living as far away as Columbus and Atlanta are illegally voting in local elections.

"It's gone on for years," she said. "No one's challenged it till now."

Mr. Ware said Ms. Richards' challenge -- aired Thursday during a hearing before the Board of Registrars -- is linked to her support for white candidates in pending elections.

"Why is she challenging it now? Cause I kicked butt the last election, that's why," Mr. Ware said. "Again I tell you: it's a conspiracy."

Mr. Ware said Georgia election codes allow anyone who leaves his county of residence -- but who someday intends to return -- to vote where he pleases.

"The code doesn't read that you have to own a house," he said. "If you reside outside the county with the intention to return, and don't register somewhere else, you're eligible."

Ms. Richards attempted Thursday to challenge 15 names on the voter list but met with little success.

"Only one of the 15 showed up," she said. "And they're saying it's up to me to prove they don't live in the county?"

Mr. Ware said the names will remain on the list unless someone can prove them ineligible.

Elections officials with the Georgia secretary of state's office are watching the dispute, but don't plan to get involved -- at least for now.

"We're aware they're trying to correct their problems," said Kara Jones, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. "The way they are handing it now is exactly what we would have them to. We'd simply tell them to follow the policies in place and get their voting list corrected."