Will Bowman, who finished second in a five-way race for the Democratic primary for Liberty County sheriff, filed a petition to contest the results of the election Thursday afternoon.
The lawsuit, filed in Liberty County Superior Court, names the Liberty County Board of Elections, all of the board members, Elections Supervisor Ella Golden and all four opposing candidates as defendants.
According to primary results certified May 27, incumbent Sheriff Steve Sikes received 2,506 votes, or 50.95 percent. Because he received a majority, Sikes avoided a runoff.
Bowman received 1,762 votes, or 35.82 percent. The other candidates — Lamar Cook, Rondy Bacon and Elton Dudley — each received less than 10 percent of the vote.
After he filed the lawsuit, Bowman said, “I’ve spent my lifetime serving the community and the country and seeking justice for everybody. Now I’m just trying to find justice in an election process that I felt was not fairly done and I just wanted someone else in on it, take another look at it.”
Bowman said he wants things done fairly for this election and future elections.
In a written statement Sikes provided Friday to the Coastal Courier, the sheriff said, “I can honestly say that I ran a clean campaign and never said anything negative about any other candidate. On Election Day, I was humbled when I received greater than 50 percent of the vote from my friends and neighbors and won the Democratic primary without a runoff.”
Sikes said he read the lawsuit and “can state unequivocally that the allegations that pertain to me will not be supported by the evidence.”
Richard Braun Sr., the chairman of the Liberty County Board of Elections and Registration, said in a statement issued Friday that the board “is troubled when even one voter, much less a candidate, expresses doubt about the fairness of an election or its outcome.”
“As with any election complaint, the board will carefully review the allegations made by Mr. Bowman in his recently filed petition and take whatever action is appropriate to fully answer any questions presented, without favor to any party or candidate,” Braun said.
The suit alleges intimidation, illegal votes and voting irregularities and fraud during the election.
According to the lawsuit, Sikes on May 20 “entered the polls for the purpose of intimidation and had an altercation with Donald Spencer, a poll worker which was subject of a report to the Secretary of State Elections Division. This was after he had voted on a previous date and was not for the purposes authorized by statute to keep order or public safety.”
The suit questions some absentee ballots and applications for absentee ballots.
It alleges that “501 absentee ballots cast in this election constitutes 10.18 percent of total votes, of which about 40 percent of them voted only in the sheriff’s race, and were the result of an organized absentee voting program orchestrated by” Sikes.
The suit claims that absentee ballot applications were mailed to registered voters with return envelopes stamped with Sikes’ P.O. box mailing address, and Hershey Harriman, the sheriff’s secretary, delivered those returned applications to the Liberty County Board of Elections office at the courthouse. It also mentions that on occasion, applications were delivered by a deputy sheriff. The deputy sheriff is not named.
According to the suit, “61 voters obtained absentee ballots and returned the voted ballot and subsequently voted in person stating that they didn’t wish to vote absentee and requested their already receive ballots be canceled.”
Once an absentee ballot has been filled out and received by the election board, another ballot cannot be issued to that same person, according to O.C.G.A. 21-2-388, which was cited in the suit.
The suit alleges that individuals who do not live in Liberty County were allowed to vote and those persons should have been “removed from the list of electors due to non-residency.”
For example, it claims that one voter has lived in Atlanta for more than five years, another has lived in Florida for more than a year and one voter has a Hinesville address but received an absentee ballot in Lithonia, where he has lived for more than a year.
One voter is said to have been sent two absentee ballots, and both are shown as being returned and completed.
The suit also alludes to possible voting machine tampering. It alleges that poll workers were allowed to transport voting machines and poll documents in their private cars to an unsecured location overnight before the election on May 24, “creating doubt as to the security of the voting equipment.”
In the suit, Bowman is requesting:
• 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.”
The suit seeks to invalidate the results and grant a new election for Liberty County sheriff.
Bowman is represented by attorney Samuel Oliver from McIntosh County.