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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Second Verse, Same as the First!

Clarkston Gets Its Re-vote on Annexation

The annexation in Area 1 is now scheduled for a "re-run" election on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Election Day in the United States.

We've been closely following the proposed Clarkston annexations for a while now and earlier this week noted how the annexation question had inexplicably disappeared, given the tie vote in Area 1, and Clarkston's intent for a second vote. Having asked the question earlier this week, we now have the answers.

Clarkston had filed a petition against the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections, after their refusal to allow a re-vote on the annexation of Area 1, as they maintained that the tie vote, under Georgia law, constituted a rejection of the referendum, normally requiring 50% + 1 Yes vote to pass. But as seen Clarkston's petition (which can be found HERE) they cited two reasons which justified a "Re-Run" of the vote.

1) The Bill Was Poorly Written

The local bill for annexation, HB 1128, allowed for separate votes for annexation in both Area 1 (Part 2-B) and Area 2 (Part 1-A).  Area 2 failed to pass; Area 1 was tied 35-35.  In HB 1128, you will find the following language:

     "If more than one-half of the votes cast on such question are for approval of the annexation,
     then this part shall become effective on January 1, 2015. If more than one-half of the votes cast
     on such question are for rejection of the annexation, this part shall not become effective and shall be
     automatically repealed on the first day of January immediately following such election date."

Note that there is no provision for a tie vote. None. A serious oversight on the part of the Bill's sponsors, and of the House of Representative's legal staff. As the language found within the actual Bill apparently trumps standards in Georgia voting procedures, a "re-run" of the vote will be allowed.

2) People Are Stupid

The second claim in the petition cites that "qualified voters had their legal votes rejected" or that a voter "was not allowed to cast a ballot in favor of annexation".  Strong language that - "Rejected", "Not Allowed". Brings back memories of the days of segregation and the Poll Tax. Even worse, it sounds like a dastardly Republican scheme to disallow legal voters from their God given right to vote.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nothing in the petition describes HOW voters had been "rejected" or "not allowed to vote."  What it does explain, although not explicitly, is how poorly (or unconstitutionally?) the vote was handled by the County. As we learned in our research, qualified voters for the annexation (registered voters resident in the proposed Area 1) were first sent letters from DeKalb County explaining the annexation vote. At their precincts, qualified voters had to go to a second registration table and a second voting machine which were exclusively used just for the annexation vote. The question did not appear on the main ballot. Voters were expected to vote twice, once for the primary elections, and again for the annexation vote. You basically had to already know the procedure to begin with, recognize what was expected once you got to the poll, or ask the precinct officials once you saw that annexation wasn't on the primary ballot.  This, of course, was too much to expect of the typical voter.

As we all know, most registered voters do not vote at all in primary or run-off elections. (DeKalb had 13.8% participation in the recent run-off for Sheriff.) Also, many who do take the time to vote are often uninformed of the issues or candidates on the ballot. And lastly, in the Clarkston annexation areas, many voters simply didn't care. (There were only 70 voters in Area 1! And 14 voters in Area 2.). As most of the registered voters lived in apartments, their concern with city or county issues is minimal or non-existent. It can be concluded then that in this vote, only the activists, both pro- and con-, were aware of the vote and how to go about it. The oblivious voter was left out altogether. (Not necessarily a bad thing!) It should be noted, however, that in America, even the ignorant are expected to vote, if they can make it to the poll.

It's obvious that no one PREVENTED the complainant from voting. She simply did not have the wherewithal to figure out how to vote, or was just unaware of the vote altogether, and her name was used for convenience as, I suppose, an actual "Victim" had to be cited in the complaint.

Hopefully, the Judge did not use "Voter Ignorance" as a reason for allowing the "re-run" vote. But maybe, just maybe, the Judge DID recognize the unconstitutional manner in which the vote was conducted. We can only hope. And let's hope the County Elections Board has learned its lesson.

Following is the original Petition filed by the City of Clarkston against DeKalb County.
(Note that the Area 2 referred to in the Petition is the same as Area 1 as referenced in this blog. There is some serious discrepancy in how the annexations areas are described.)

A map of the proposed Clarkston annexations proposed in the primary election, May 20, 2014.

The Fuck Ups In This Annexation Vote Can Probably Go All Around

Going through all this, I soon realized that the descriptions of the two annexation areas were so variable, that the legal language used in the petition, and most likely in the final Consent Order, may leave the entire question unresolved. You may have picked up on this if you've been following this process, if you've been confused by just what is Area 1 and Area 2.  Following is the text of an email I sent to the city attorney. Maybe it makes a difference, maybe it doesn't, but still. 

My email comments:

I would like to note a state of confusion with some of the language used in the original bill, the map issued by the City, and with the City's petition. The problem is that none of the references to the two areas considered for annexation are consistent.

First, the area to the WEST was first referred to as Part 1-A in the original Clarkston feasibility study. In the map issued by Clarkston, attached, the same area was called Area 2. In HB 1128, it was not named at all, but was the first area described, under Part One, Section 1-1. In the DeKalb County Election Summary Report, it was also referred to as Part 1-A. Your petition does not refer to this area.

Second, the area to the EAST and NORTHEAST was first referred to as Part 2-B in the original feasibility study. In the map issued by Clarkston, the same area was called Area 1. In HB 1128, it was not named at all, but was the second area described, under Part Two, Section 2-1. The DeKalb County Election Summary Report also referred to as Part 2-B. Your petition is the ONLY document I am aware of that actually refers to it as Area 2.

I can only presume that the phrases Area 1 and Area 2 were commonly used by city authorities such that everyone knew which was which, but still.

As near as I can tell, there is no legal document that describes "Area 1" and "Area 2". (The one document that does exist, that may or may not have been submitted with HB 1128, is the map issued by the city, which uses the opposite designations.) Your petition does not actually describe Area 2. So, your petition is the only document referencing Area 2, which in my reading remains legally undefined.

When I first saw all this, I had assumed that the references had been corrected in an addendum. However, your email above does refer to the annexation area as "Area 2." Although the overall intent is clear, I'm thinking you may not have the correct legal description of the area, and could be vulnerable to a legal challenge. Hopefully, this doesn't matter one whit and you can just ignore me or tell me to mind my own business. But maybe, just maybe, it is important enough to correct in the final Consent Order. I'm not a lawyer, so I wouldn't know. But I do believe that this kind of nitpicking legalese usually does make a difference. 

Just a word to the wise.

So, if you're interested in a legal challenge, there you go. 

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