By Maggie Lee
A Tuesday runoff election for Atlanta City Council is set to continue, after a judge OK’d Fulton’s election administration and the candidacy of Antonio Brown.
First-round voting last month for the Westside’s District 3 put Brown in a runoff with Byron Amos — by only three votes.
Third-pace finisher Greg Clay challenged those results in court, accusing Fulton County of voting irregularities bad enough to put the results in doubt. And Clay said Brown should have been disqualified by a tax lien.
For three days this week, Clay’s lawyer plus two other losing candidates themselves examined and cross-examined Atlanta residents and voting officials in front of Richard Winegarden, a senior judge.
A handful of residents testified on various difficulties — one woman said she lives in District 3 but was wrongfully turned away by a poll worker who said her residence was in District 4. No one came forward to refute her story.
In the end, Winegarden said he thought the treatment of her was problematic.
But that was only one vote. The other testimony and claims in court were not strong enough to make him question other votes.
“I don’t find enough problems with ballots or voters to put the result of the election in doubt,” Winegarden said Thursday evening from the bench.
Now, as for the lien, Antonio Brown’s lawyer Bruce Brown, argued that under several precedents and points of law, Antonio Brown’s lien didn’t disqualify him as a candidate.
In 2018, the state issued a roughly $5,600 lien related to Antonio Brown’s 2016 taxes. Antonio Brown has long argued, including in court, that the lien was in error. The lien was released this week.
And Bruce Brown argued that eligibility for office is the general rule, and the language of the Georgia Constitution on tax liens and candidates ought to be construed toward eligibility, not ineligibility.
The way Bruce Brown construed the law, candidates can have tax liens unless a court is involved.
Georgia’s new secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, was in a similar situation during his campaign last year.
Winegarden indeed called the law’s wording “problematic” and that it seemed to lack teeth. He said he thought it was confusing for someone who’s trying to interpret if they violate that provision or not. (The text is below, but much of the discussion in court was about whether a court has to adjudicate on any tax default to trigger the ban from officeholding. And besides that, people can get around the ban by having a tax payment plan.)
“I’m not going to disqualify Mr. Antonio Brown based on his tax situation,” Winegarden said.
Matthew Charles Cardinale, who placed seventh by the results, said in court that Bruce Brown’s interpretation of the tax lien law would lead to “absurd” consequences — and suggested the court lean toward a construction consistent with legislative intent.
And Cardinale countered that there were certainly enough votes thrown out —six — to put the result in question.
After the hearing, Cardinale said he would explore an appeal. Clay had no comment on any actions just yet.
As for Byron Amos and Antonio Brown, early voting in their election finishes on Friday, April 12. Election day is Tuesday, April 16.
Amos vacated seat on the Atlanta Board of Education to run for City Council. A date for an election to replace him has not yet been set.
Georgia Constitution, Article II, Section II, Paragraph III
Paragraph III. Persons not eligible to hold office. No person who is not a registered voter; who has been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude, unless that person’s civil rights have been restored and at least ten years have elapsed from the date of the completion of the sentence without a subsequent conviction of another felony involving moral turpitude; who is a defaulter for any federal, state, county, municipal, or school system taxes required of such officeholder or candidate if such person has been finally adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to owe those taxes, but such ineligibility may be removed at any time by full payment thereof, or by making payments to the tax authority pursuant to a payment plan, or under such other conditions as the General Assembly may provide by general law; or who is the holder of public funds illegally shall be eligible to hold any office or appointment of honor or trust in this state. Additional conditions of eligibility to hold office for persons elected on a write-in vote and for persons holding offices or appointments of honor or trust other than elected offices created by this Constitution may be provided by law.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling in Matthew Charles Cardinale’s name and to clarify that his he wants the court lean toward a construction of the state Constitution consistent with legislative intent.