Five voters filed challenges with the Liberty County Board of Elections in the past two weeks alleging Douglas Burgess Jr. is not qualified to run for Hinesville City Council. These voters question Burgess’ residency as a Hinesville city resident, claiming he may not have lived in the city the required 12 months before Nov. 8, the date of the municipal election.
One voter’s challenge was heard by the board Sept. 14. Four other voters filed written complaints Sept. 16, the last day such complaints could be submitted, Liberty County Board of Elections Chairman Richard Braun Sr. said. Braun explained that challenges must be submitted in writing to the Board of Elections within two weeks after a candidate qualifies.
The board will hear the four voters’ challenges at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Liberty County Voter Registration office on Memorial Drive in Hinesville. Braun said Monday that the Board of Elections would send certified letters to Burgess and the four challengers notifying them of the hearing.
Burgess stepped down from the Allenhurst City Council in April, stating in a resignation letter he planned to pursue other professional avenues, according to Allenhurst Mayor Thomas Hines. Hines said the council appointed James Willis in early August to fill the vacant seat for the remainder of Burgess’ term. Willis then qualified to run for a full term on the Allenhurst City Council. Hines said his city will not hold an election in November because only the incumbents qualified to run.
Burgess qualified to run for the Hinesville District 4 council seat against incumbent Hinesville Council Member Keith Jenkins on Sept. 2. Liberty County Election Supervisor Ella Golden said Burgess’ qualifications also were challenged four years ago, when he ran for Allenhurst City Council.
Braun said the evidence a voter brought before the board last Wednesday failed to prove Burgess was not a Hinesville city resident and therefore the board could not disqualify him.
“Our board has to look at the challenger’s evidence, compare it with these (Georgia annotated code sections 21-6-6 and 21-2-217) and see if this challenger has the preponderance of evidence,” he said.
Plainly stated, the challenger has the burden of proof and the board of elections must vote whether a candidate is qualified based solely on the evidence presented to them, Braun confirmed. Last week, the voter presented as evidence a story printed in the Coastal Courier about Burgess’s resignation in April from the Allenhurst City Council, the board chairman said.
Braun added that if Burgess or the voter filing the challenge were to disagree with the board’s decision, they would have the right to file an appeal in the Liberty County Superior Court within 10 days after the board has voted on a challenge.
Hinesville City Clerk Sarah Lumpkin said when a resident qualifies to run for office, she checks to see if that individual’s name has been entered in the Georgia Voter Registration System as a Hinesville/Liberty County voter. Burgess’ name was on page 636 of the most recent state voter registration list when he qualified Sept. 2, according to Lumpkin.
The city then compares a candidate’s address to the district map, she said. The Hinesville City Council voted to redraw the city’s voting districts this summer. The city redrew its voting districts because of population shifts during the past decade. The council began the process of redrawing district lines after receiving the 2010 Census results in April.
Golden said she still is waiting to receive the Department of Justice’s “preclearance” approval of Hinesville’s new districts. Hinesville City Attorney Linnie Darden expects the city’s preclearance process to be completed by Oct. 25. The Department of Justice is reviewing the new districts and examining the city’s reasons for redistricting to ensure there are no “substantive” issues with the Voting Rights Act, Darden explained.
“We have been in contact with officials at the Department of Justice and they are aware we’ve asked for an expedited review,” he said.
Lumpkin said qualifying candidates also must sign a state notice of candidacy affirming they have not been convicted of a crime and swearing their written statements are true. She said the city also confirms when water was turned on at a qualifying candidate’s residence. The water reportedly was turned on at Burgess’ Hinesville address Dec. 23, 2009, according to Lumpkin. The water bill was signed by Loretta Burgess and lists Douglas Burgess as her spouse, the clerk said.
Burgess told the Courier on Monday, “The (Wednesday) hearing moved in my favor. There were affidavits that were signed,” he said.
Burgess said he moved to the area in 2005 and acquired his house in Hinesville before 2008. He said he “kept the house and paid the bills” when his son-in-law deployed to Iraq.
Read more on the interview with Burgess and other nonincumbent city council candidates in Sunday’s Courier.