Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes and the Board of Elections recently filed responses denying allegations of wrongdoing in the May 24 Democratic primary for sheriff and requested that the challenge filed by the second-place finisher be dismissed.
Results certified May 27 showed Sikes, who is seeking re-election, receiving 2,506 votes, or 50.95 percent, in a five-way race. Because he received a majority, Sikes avoided a runoff.
Will Bowman, who finished second with 1,762 votes, or 35.82 percent, filed the challenge June 2 in Liberty County Superior Court. 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 for a new election, Sikes will face Republican Robert Brooks in the November general election.
As of Friday, no order had been issued. So as it stands now, there will be no general primary runoff in Liberty County, as all races were decided by the May 24 results. Early voting in counties that do have runoffs, including Long County, starts Tuesday and runs through July 22, with Election Day being July 26.
A response to Bowman’s lawsuit filed June 13 on Sikes’ behalf by Hinesville attorney James Osteen says Bowman’s request for a new sheriff’s primary election should not be granted because there was “no credible evidence of any irregularity or illegality” in the May 24 primary.
County attorney Kelly Davis filed a response the same day on behalf of the Board of Elections. Both responses are similarly worded, with exceptions pertaining specifically to Sikes or the board.
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.”
Bowman alleged in his challenge that 61 voters who obtained absentee ballots returned them and then were allowed to vote in person after requesting their sent-in ballots be canceled, which is a violation of state law. The lawsuit also alleges that 40 percent of the 501 absentee ballots cast in the election only had votes in the sheriff’s race, “and were the result of an organized absentee voting program orchestrated by” Sikes. The suit goes on to name several people who cast absentee ballots in the sheriff’s race but were not Liberty County residents.
Bowman’s challenge also accuses Sikes of engaging in a May 20 altercation with a poll worker. The challenge adds that Sikes had already voted “and was not for the purposes authorized by statute to keep order or public safety” and that he “entered the polls for the purpose of intimidation” that day.
The lawsuit alleges that poll workers were allowed to transport voting machines and poll documents in private cars “to an unsecure location overnight” for use in the May 24 election, “creating doubt as to the security of the voting equipment.”
Osteen’s response says Sikes “is presently without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of such allegations, except that the Sheriff denies any misconduct, fraud or other improper conduct on his part at any time relevant to the Petition to change or place in doubt the result of the Election.”
Davis’ response is similar, except it says in part, “the Board denies any irregularity or illegality of any kind on its part or that of its employees and officials subject to change or place in doubt the result of the Election.”
Osteen’s response adds that Sikes “specifically and vehemently denies any allegation that he at any time attempted to intimidate an elector or any other person for any reason whatsoever.”
Davis’ response says the board “vehemently denies any fraud or misconduct in its conduct of the Election, and hereby confirms that at all times during said Election, the Board endeavored to ensure a fair process consistent with the requirements of the Georgia Election Code and the solemn duties entrusted to it.”
Both the sheriff and Board of Elections’ responses say they join Bowman in asking that the court order the review of “relevant election records” and that they do not object to any hearing the court may determine necessary or that may be required by state election code.