Georgia Secretary of State Defends Disqualifications Decision
By Karen C. Handel, Georgia Secretary of State
It’s too bad that in today’s political environment elected officials who follow and enforce the law are so easily labeled as part of some ‘partisan conspiracy’ or, in my case, labeled as the ‘next Katherine Harris.’ In Bill Shipp’s column last week (“The Handel Machine”), I found myself on the receiving end of these bizarre accusations because Mr. Shipp disagreed with my decisions which were based on Georgia law. His column, which repeated partisan attacks usually relegated to blogs and partisan campaign fundraising appeals, was a disservice to the readers of this newspaper.
A quick call to my office would have cleared up many of the misconceptions in the column. However, since Mr. Shipp failed to extend me that courtesy, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the facts of these cases so that your readers have both sides of the story.
Jim Powell was disqualified as a candidate for District 4 of the Public Service Commission for a simple reason: under Georgia law, Mr. Powell is not a resident of the district and is ineligible to run for the office, or serve should he be elected. Georgia law states that, if someone has claimed a homestead exemption, the specific address of the exemption shall be deemed the person's residence address. At the time Powell qualified as a candidate, he received a homestead exemption in his name and continued to receive mail at a home owned in Cobb County, which is not in the Public Service Commission District for which he qualified. When Powell attempted to change his homestead exemption to Towns County, he provided the Towns County Tax Assessor his Cobb County address. In addition, the timing of Shipp’s column coincides with a partisan grassroots effort directed at my office to drop Mr. Powell’s case and let him appear on the ballot in November. I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if this is a mere coincidence.
Similarly, state House District 80 candidate Keith Gross was disqualified because he did not meet residency requirements. In fact, Mr. Gross did not even choose to appeal the disqualification. Instead, Michelle Conlon has attempted to qualify as an independent candidate for the state House District 80 seat.
Ms. Conlon’s candidacy petitions required the verifiable signatures of 1,027 registered voters in the district. As is required by law, and long-standing procedures of the Secretary of State’s office, the signatures on Ms. Conlon’s petitions were checked and verified by elections officials in the county where the district lies. In this case, state House District 80 lies entirely within DeKalb County, arguably one of the most reliably Democrat counties in the state. But, DeKalb County elections officials set politics aside, did their job and followed the law. DeKalb County elections officials, not employees of the Secretary of State’s Office, found that Ms. Conlon’s petitions contained only 976 valid signatures. Contrary to what Bill Shipp, Georgia Democrat Party leaders and Ms. Conlon’s lawyers claim, there was nothing political about this decision either. I simply followed the law, as I did with the Special Primary called in state Senate District 13.
I am the first to acknowledge that these cases can be controversial, and those who disagree with my decisions are going to be vocal in their dissent. But, I took an oath to serve the people of Georgia, uphold the constitution and enforce the laws of this state without consideration of partisan politics or outside influences. This is what I have done in these cases and it is what I will continue to do so long as the people of Georgia have entrusted me with the office of Secretary of State.