The Secretary of State’s office released a press release late this afternoon explaining that Democratic candidate James Williams has been disqualified from the House District 151 race due to non-residency in the District. Mr. Williams was incorrectly assigned to District 151 by the Dougherty County Election Board instead of District 154. Incumbent Republican Representative Gerald Greene is the sole remaining candidate for the seat.
The press release:
Today Secretary of State Brian Kemp accepted an Administrative Law Judge’s order and found James Williams does not meet the qualifications to seek election in Georgia House District 151.
Judge Ronit Walker of the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) released an initial decision on Wednesday stating that Mr. Williams was not qualified to seek election for the seat. The Georgia Constitution requires a candidate to have residency in a district for one year at the time of their election. In Williams’ case, she found that he lives in House District 154, not 151.
The judge cited that confusion surrounding Mr. Williams’ district residency stemmed from errors by Dougherty County Elections officials who failed to properly place Mr. Williams in the correct state house district.
“Every candidate for state office must meet all of the constitutional and statutory requirements for holding the office sought by the candidate. . . [and at] the time of their election, members of the Georgia House of Representatives shall have been legal residents of the territory embraced within the district from which elected for at least one year,” said Judge Walker in her decision.
“Under O.C.G.A. 21-2-226(b), it is the Board that has the duty of determining and placing the elector in the proper state House district. . . [but the] Board incorrectly assigned [Respondent James Williams’] District, placing him in District 151 rather than 154.”
Ultimately, Dougherty County officials had to reassign Williams and 76 other voters from House District 151 to House District 154 because, as a Dougherty County Elections official admitted at the hearing, “the whole area was wrong.”
Prior to the judge’s ruling, the Secretary of State’s office launched an investigation to examine Dougherty County’s actions during redistricting. This will be the third investigation into the county for problems related to redistricting in the past five years.
State Election Board cases from 2013 and earlier show that 61 voters were placed in incorrect districts after the 2011 redistricting period. In another case similar to Mr. Williams’, a candidate who qualified for the Albany City Commission was disqualified after it was discovered the candidate had been incorrectly districted by Dougherty County. That case was sent to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution for election law violations.
“This entire situation is very unfortunate,” said Secretary of State Brian Kemp. “Mr. Williams relied on his precinct card and voter information to qualify for the State House, but due to county error, his information was incorrect.”
The Secretary of State’s Office Investigations Division will monitor Dougherty County, and the office’s Elections Division will provide training for county officials in hopes to prevent this type of error from happening again.
In concluding her order, the judge stated that while candidate James Williams “acted in good faith,” relying on faulty county records when he qualified, he nonetheless failed to satisfy the constitutional and statutory requirements for office.