The Hinesville City Council held a called meeting Thursday to address allegations that this year’s municipal election may be in jeopardy.
City Attorney Linnie Darden III confirmed at the meeting that the city’s proposed district lines, which the council approved in August, have yet to officially be cleared through the Department of Justice. He added that he is working closely with the department to secure a letter of pre-clearance before advanced voting, which begins Monday.
“We intend to go forward under the new districts, knowing that the pre-clearance should be here by the beginning of the date,” Darden said.
The pre-clearance letter, which effectively makes the new districts official, originally was expected to arrive Aug. 25, Darden said. The election will be Nov. 8.
“So, all of the voting districts remain the same. All of the instructions remain the same. We will begin early voting on Monday,” said Mayor Jim Thomas, who also is a candidate in the election.
District 5 candidate John Spradley brought the issue to light during Tuesday night’s candidate forum, hosted by the Liberty County NAACP Chapter and the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.
“I spoke with the voter registration office today in Georgia, and as of yet, the districts haven’t been approved … so if you go to the polls to vote, you’re voting in your old district,” Spradley said during the forum Tuesday. “So, in other words, people that I’m out there campaigning for … if they go to the polls today or to vote early, they can’t even vote for me.”
During the Thursday meeting, Spradley and several other candidates volleyed questions to the council, City Manager Billy Edwards and Darden.
“Yesterday, I spent most of the day talking with the fraud department of the state of Georgia Elections Department, and I was informed that there’s no way — even if y’all would have gotten the approval letter stating that the re-districts are good from the Justice Department — that Georgia would have enough time before the pre-elections started … to adjust it in their system on their side to show the new districts,” Spradley said. “What I’m getting from the state is different from what you’re telling me here.”
District 5 candidate Angela Wilson and Mayoral candidate Tyrone Adams also addressed the Council, while mayoral candidate Billy Kitchings, District 1 candidate Diana Reid and District 5 candidate Hannah Williams-Donegan attended the meeting but did not speak.
Georgia Secretary of State spokesman Matthew Carrothers confirmed Friday morning that the city still had not received pre-clearance from the Department of Justice, and confirmed that the city attorney is working closely with the Elections Division regarding the matter.
“The qualifying for the seats was done under the new or proposed lines,” Carrothers said. “If you got (pre-clearance) today, you could start early voting, and it would be done under new lines.”
When asked about the candidates’ allegations that they had been told otherwise by the Elections Division, Carrothers said he could not verify or deny the statements.
“I don’t want to speculate on who said what to who unless I have some definitive information,” he said.
The Courier is in the process of verifying information presented by all parties during the meeting with other outside agencies.
For the full story, see Sunday’s Courier.