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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Norwood supporters hint at election fraud in mayor's race

Mary Norwood — sore loser or victim of election fraud?
Mary Norwood — sore loser or victim of election fraud?

The rumors began last week. Grand conspiracy theories involving mayoral campaign vans sighted in Clayton County, out-of-towners ferried in to Atlanta polling precincts, hundreds of voters claiming residence at public housing projects that don't exist anymore.

For those grateful for the thought that the mayor's race was behind us — give or take a recount — we've got bad news. While Councilwoman Mary Norwood awaits a re-tallying of votes in her wafer-thin loss to former state Sen. Kasim Reed, some of her supporters are investigating possible voting irregularities in the Dec. 1 runoff.

Other Norwood backers have gone on the offensive by suggesting — privately and publicly — that the city's new Mayor-elect may have benefited from a coordinated effort to bring illegal voters to the polls, an action that amounts to criminal election fraud.

Erica Long, wife of state Rep. Ralph Long — a high-profile Norwood supporter — says that, after the Nov. 3 general election, the Norwood campaign discovered that nearly 1,400 ballots had been cast by people claiming to live in Grady Homes, Bankhead Courts, Englewood Manor and other former housing projects that have been demolished.

"We detected that those voters were registered at addresses that no longer exist,"  says Long, adding that she has filed a request with the Secretary of State's office to get voter information from the Dec. 1 runoff to see if a similar phenomenon happened in that election.

In a rambling open e-mail sent to local media early this morning, neighborhood activist and fervent Norwood supporter Maceo Williams questions whether Reed's "get-out-the-vote" workers might have committed multiple felonies by taking ineligible voters to the polls.

"When the numbers add up, did Mary Norwood actually win?" he asks.

Norwood herself was stuck in an hours-long Council meeting Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Behind the scenes, a conspiracy scenario seems to have gelled that goes something like this: Reed campaign workers went down to Clayton, where many former Atlanta public-housing residents now live, and drove hundreds of them back to city precincts where they are still registered — albeit improperly — to vote.

Voilà!: a stolen election.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, a longtime colleague and supporter of Reed, has heard the rumor — and he says it's far-fetched.

"Is it possible that some voters were registered at addresses that no longer exist? Yes, that's possible," Fort says. "But to allege a coordinated effort to bring people in from other counties is laughable. It's difficult enough to get people who live in a precinct to vote in that precinct."

Reed himself categorically denies any suggestion that his campaign encouraged or helped people vote illegally.

"That's completely false," he said Monday, in between meetings with his transition staff. "It's a load of garbage. Every one of my campaign vans stayed in the city on election day."

While it's a violation of state election code to vote outside one's home precinct, it's typically not considered a serious breach of the law and votes for city-wide races — such as for mayor — would count as long as the voter is still an Atlanta resident. If voters neglect to register at a new address, however, it can be very difficult for election officials to track illegal votes.

Fort is one of few local politicians who actually has first-hand experience with these kinds of election improprieties. In 1989, he managed the campaign of Gloria Tinubu, who was then running for the District 12 Council seat. After Tinubu lost by a scant 45 votes to incumbent Dozier Smith, she alleged election fraud, claiming that a number of votes had come from a neighborhood that had been condemned by the city and cleared of residents.

Although a judge later determined that as many as 20 people had voted illegally — including Smith's children — it wasn't enough to change the outcome of the election. No evidence was found to suggest Tinubu's opponent had orchestrated widespread election fraud.

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