A hearing in Liberty County Superior Court that may decide the outcome of a suit filed by Will Bowman contesting the results of the May primary elections for Liberty County sheriff has been moved up a week.
The hearing is now set to begin Aug. 25 in front of Judge Gary McCorvey of Tift County. It was orginally scheduled for Sept. 1.
Bowman, who finished second in a five-way race in the Democratic primary, contested the election results in June.
In the suit, Bowman named as defendants the Liberty County Board of Elections, all of the election board members, Elections Supervisor Ella Golden and all four opposing candidates.
Bowman alleges that incumbent Steve Sikes intimidated a poll worker and that absentee ballots were handled incorrectly. His suit further alleges there was intimidation, illegal votes, voting irregularities and fraud by the defendants during the election.
The lawsuit also claims voting machines were tampered with.
Sikes and the Board of Elections have filed responses denying the allegations.
Sikes’ attorney James Osteen said Bowman’s request for a new sheriff’s
primary should not be granted because there is "no credible evidence of any irregularity or illegality" in the May 24 primary.
County Attorney Kelly Davis filed a similar response on behalf of the board, denying wrongdoing.
Osteen’s response says Bowman’s allegations "are based on speculation and otherwise fail to satisfy the evidentiary burden applicable to election contests generally."
Davis’ response adds the word "mere" before "speculation" but otherwise is worded identically.
Osteen’s response also says, "The sheriff won the election fairly and without the need for a runoff and the results of the same should not now be overturned because of any alleged errors made by employees or officials of the Liberty County Board of Elections and Registration and in which the sheriff had no involvement."
Results certified May 27 showed Sikes, who is seeking re-election, received 2,506 votes, or 50.95 percent, in the five-way race. Because he received a majority, Sikes avoided a runoff.
Bowman finished second with 1,762 votes, or 35.82 percent, filed the challenge June 2 in Liberty County Superior Court. Local judges have recused themselves.
The other candidates — Lamar Cook, Rondy Bacon and Elton Dudley — each received less than 10 percent of the vote.
Unless the court grants Bowman’s request, Sikes will face Republican Robert Brooks in the November general election.
In the suit Bowman requested:
• Access to all signature cards on file and absentee applications.
• Access to absentee ballot envelopes to compare the signature on file to the one on the ballot and absentee application.
• A hearing to "determine the validity of the contest."
That hearing, which could take two days, will start at 9 a.m. at the Liberty County Justice Center.