DeKalb Elections Board denies challenges to 26 voter registrations

A sign directs voters to the Oakhurst Baptist Church polling location in Decatur on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections, during a special called meeting on April 22, denied challenges to 26 voter registrations and decided to keep those voters on the rolls in a 4-1 vote.

Gail Lee, a DeKalb resident, brought forward multiple challenges to voter registrations based on the use of non-residential addresses used on each voter registration.

BRE Chair Dele Lowman Smith said, “Upon review of the challenged voters’ individual voter files, department staff determined that for the majority of challenged voters there is no valid challenge on this stated basis because the voter has a residential address on file and the non-residential address is simply a mailing address, the voter has been transferred out of DeKalb County or has left the state, the voter is deceased, the voter has been cancelled due to inactivity under the state’s voter list maintenance program, or because the voter was improperly transferred to DeKalb from another county based on the addition of the non-residential mailing address, in which case staff has requested that those voters be transferred back to their county of origin.”

The board considered 26 challenges during the special called meeting. Each had an address listed for a post office box, a post office, UPS store or a commercial address. In the affidavits, Lee indicated that she walked each property and did not see any residential properties.

“I received a spreadsheet from someone in Gwinnett County that is doing research on voter challenges,” Lee said. “They said they found some in DeKalb County. They couldn’t challenge them because they were in the wrong county. She gave me the spreadsheet and I worked off of that.”

Lee said she does not know any of the voters she challenged, had not talked to them, and had no other information besides the addresses listed in the affidavits. She also did not provide any additional documentation or witnesses to support her challenges.

It is up to the challenger to bear the burden of proof and demonstrate that each individual is not eligible to vote in DeKalb County. Under Georgia law, the registrar’s initial decision in determining the residence of the challenged voter is presumptive evidence of a person’s residence for voting purposes, said Irene Vander Els, senior assistant county attorney.

“The challenger in this procedure has to present evidence sufficient to overcome that presumption, and what that means legally is…that the challenged voter or the staff does not have to provide any evidence that they were properly registered at the outset. That is presumed to be correct,” Vander Els said. “It is Miss Lee’s burden as the challenger to provide evidence that it is more likely than not that the challenged voter was not in fact a resident of DeKalb at the time they registered to vote.”

All challenged voter registrations were completed through the state Department of Drivers Services when the individuals either renewed their license, changed their address or applied for a license for the first time. The county office of voter registration and elections was unable to determine what actions the voters took regarding their licenses at the time.

Vander Els explained that individuals don’t have to provide a residential address at the time of registering with DDS. She had not found a requirement to provide a residential address to be qualified to vote, but there is a requirement that individuals certify under oath that they are qualified as a resident. Residents must live in DeKalb County to register to vote in the county.

“Ultimately, the address provided by a voter is not dispositive of a domicile here,” Vander Els said. “It is simply a factor to consider. There is no requirement in the code or the regulations that a voter provide a residential address in order to vote. My understanding is what they are asked to do is to certify or affirm that they reside in DeKalb County or whatever their county of residence is in order to register to vote. That would have been done here, both through the registration process through DDS and…the voter certificate that voters are required to sign each time they come in to vote.”

To determine residence, the board could consider the applicant’s financial independence, employment, business pursuits, income sources, age, residence for income tax purposes, marital status, lease holds, sites of personal or real property, personal property registrations, and residence of parents, spouse and children, Vander Els said.

“Those are the types of information the board can consider in terms of determining whether a voter resides in DeKalb County. I recognize that most, if not all, of that information is not before the board,” Vander Els said.

Under the DeKalb Elections Board’s procedures for responding to voter challenges, nonexclusive examples of challenges that would fail to meet the minimum standards include non-individualized or generalized claims, assertions that a challenged voter’s name is not affiliated with the address of registration in any governmental database, and voter caging challenges.

Lowman Smith noted that these challenges fell under the generalized claims category. An example listed in the procedures of generalized claims include challenges to everyone registered at a certain address. The 26 challenges included multiple people registered at similar addresses.

“I think based on the motion that we passed, this very clearly meets that challenge,” Lowman Smith said. “We really need to have some clear dispositive evidence that demonstrates not that there’s suspicious, but there is in fact clear evidence that somebody is not eligible to vote where they were registered. I think the other thing that should be acknowledged is that we simply do not have enough information.”

Board Vice Chair Nancy Jester said she didn’t like that PO boxes were used on the voter registration and didn’t necessarily agree with the rules laid out, but acknowledged that the board can’t remove the voters from the rolls solely based on the use of P.O. box address.

Some challenges indicated that voters were registered using the same P.O. box. Jester noted that is a red flag, but “red flags don’t necessarily meet the burden of proof.”

Board member Anthony Lewis cast the opposing vote.

“One of the concerns here for me, at least as a board member and my time on the board, one of the few ways that we have to know how, I guess, clean…our voter rolls are is from people from the public coming to us and pointing out their concerns,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t feel right to me to basically dismiss those 26 challenges in a group.”

Lewis was concerned that there are a few locations in the county that numerous people are using for an address.

“They don’t have to come here and prove their residence, but somehow we have to be able to determine whether or not they are residents,” Lewis said. “There has been a question raised and for me, it leaves questions. How else are we going to determine if a person lives in DeKalb if they don’t actually give us a residence in DeKalb.”

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