Argument over Atlanta Council seat hinges on write-ins

By Maggie Lee

In an Atlanta City Council race, it looks like votes for the likes of Beyoncé and Mickey Mouse might have made a difference if they’d gone another way.

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond (left) and Atlanta Board of Education chair Courtney English. Credit: Maggie Lee and courtesy Courtney English

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond (left) and Atlanta Board of Education chair Courtney English. Credit: Maggie Lee and courtesy Courtney English

Incumbent Councilman Michael Julian Bond got 365 votes more than challenger Courtney English, in a very close race with about 82,000 votes cast, according to unofficial results from DeKalb and Fulton counties.

According to those same results, a total 417 people wrote in a candidate. That means they put in what ever they wanted, maybe Oprah or Chuck Norris. There were no “certified” write-in candidates in the race, people who filed election paperwork ahead of time noting a write-in candidacy.

So an attorney for English is saying Bond didn’t get 50 percent of the vote — counting those write-in ballots —  and it’s time for a runoff.

“Results certified by the Board of elections in DeKalb County and Fulton County indicate that no candidate received a majority of the votes cast in the election, thus requiring a runoff election,” David Dove wrote to Atlanta’s city clerk yesterday.

English had requested a recount; the letter says that because no candidate received a majority, he’s rescinding his recount request.

Reached by text, English today said he had no comment.

But Bond and his attorney did.

“Under Georgia law, for a write-in vote to count, it has to be for a certified write-in candidate,” said attorney Robert Highsmith, in a press conference on City Hall steps with Bond.

“If you write in someone, under Georgia law, who is not certified, that vote does not go into the denominator when calculating whether or not someone exceeded the required 50 percent,” said Highsmith. He said a 2006 ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court made that clear in a case that was “the exact same scenario.”

Bond said he feels “almost sympathetic” to English, but said that the voters of Atlanta have spoken and returned him to office.

Atlanta’s city clerk (whose job includes election supervision) could not immediately be reached for comment.

Both men had well-financed campaigns — Bond and English reported spending about $51,000 and $43,000 respectively in just the period from Oct. 1 to 25.

And both had their high-profile supporters.

Mayor Kasim Reed and former Gov. Roy Barnes were among the hosts of a Bond fundraiser in September.

English counted in his corner former Mayor Shirley Franklin. And among fundraiser hosts for him were Councilman Andre Dickens and Jason Carter, a former state Senator, 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee and grandson of Jimmy Carter.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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