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Johnson County election challenged over broken voting machine
By Rodney Manley The Macon Telegraph
WRIGHTSVILLE - A candidate for the Johnson County Board of Commissioners has challenged the results of last week's primary, claiming that a faulty voting machine kept numerous voters from casting ballots.
Lamar Sheppard filed a petition Monday in Superior Court which asks the court to order a new election for the District 5 seat on the commission.
Sheppard held a slim lead over incumbent Billy Dudley - and was even declared the "apparent winner" by a Wrightsville newspaper - until the votes from the sole machine in Scott, located in southwest Johnson County, could be counted Wednesday.
Those late votes helped Dudley to a 290-259 victory.
"He just wants a fair election," said Sheppard's attorney, Tom Everett.
The voting machine in Scott broke after the first vote was cast at 7 a.m., according to Sheppard's petition. It was repaired after about a 30-minute delay, but broke down for good about 4 p.m., Sheppard claims.
"People had to wait," Everett said. "There were a number of people who never had a chance to vote."
Statements from 20 citizens who said they were unable to vote were attached to the petition, which claims the statements represent "only a fraction" of those turned away.
In the petition, Sheppard accuses county officials of "poor planning and negligence," claiming the voting machine had failed to work properly in the county's last election.
Superintendent of Elections Chris Harvey and Dudley, the defendants in the petition, both said they were unaware of previous problems with the machine.
"If that particular machine had been a problem in the past, that's the first I've heard of it," said Harvey, who added that he had not seen a copy of Sheppard's petition.
Harvey and Dudley also disputed Sheppard's claim that paper ballots were not provided for voters while the machine was down. Dudley said he was waiting to vote when the machine broke.
"The person right ahead of me was the last person to vote," he said. "Everybody who was there had the opportunity to vote."
Sheppard is challenging only the results in District 5, but Everett said the problem with the voting machine may have affected other contested local races.
"Those people weren't going in there and only voting for District Five," Everett said.
The primary was the first countywide election here with voting machines. It also was the first overseen by Harvey and other members of the county's new board of elections.
"That's just business," Harvey said of Sheppard's challenge. "If he has something legit, I'm sure the board would have no problem redoing anything."
Dudley said a special election would cost Johnson County about $10,000 to $15,000 - not a small amount for a county of just over 8,000 residents.
"The county can't afford another election," he said. "Some people are just bad losers."
-- Doris (email@example.com), July 25, 2000