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Citizens worried about election security in Coffee County since the well-publicized breaches that occurred in January of 2021 can put their minds at ease. Security measures at the Coffee County elections office caught suspicious activity during the November 7, 2023, municipal election and prevented an improperly cast ballot from being counted. In the process, election officials may have also uncovered at least one felony during the incident.
And one of the central figures in the potentially illegal incident is former city commissioner Olivia Pearson, who, in the wake of the 2021 breaches, has been very outspoken in the need for safe, secure, and lawful elections.
During the November 7, 2023 municipal election, a Douglas voter left the polling precinct with a printed ballot in her purse that had not been counted. Elections board procedures caught the missing ballot as votes were counted. Officials investigated the discrepancy and discovered what happened.
As it turns out, the incident in question is recorded on video. DouglasNow.com obtained the video (which can be seen below this story) of the incident through an open records request which shows the voter folding the ballot and placing it inside her purse. The incident occurred while then-city commissioner Olivia Pearson assisted the voter with casting her ballot.
Taking a ballot out of a polling precinct is potentially a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The various code sections that address removing a ballot from a precinct include no provisions where doing so is lawful.
The incident itself is troublesome enough. The story behind it is even more so. At least three different things happened regarding this incident that paint a disturbing picture of possible election malfeasance. It is important to note that while the Secretary of State’s Office is aware of this incident, there is no current investigation underway and no charges have been filed.
The first component of this story took place on the day of the election when the voter, who lived in and was registered to vote in Ward 2, went to the polls to vote. Pearson went with her to assist. The voter checked in and received a Ward 2 ballot. She went to a machine and voted with Pearson’s help.
That led to the incident’s second event. When the ballot was printed, the two looked at the ballot and began talking. Video footage shows the voter taking the ballot, folding it, and slipping it into her purse. Then the voter requests a provisional ballot for Ward 3 and votes in that ward. The printed ballot was never scanned and counted because it was removed from the precinct.
Pearson, who represents Ward 3, had decided not to run for re-election. Two candidates were running for her seat – Gregory Batts and Tony Paulk II. Pearson supported Batts in the election and brought people to the polls to cast ballots in his favor. (Paulk II won the election.)
This particular voter had lived in Ward 3 in 2019 but had since moved to Ward 2. When she moved to Ward 2, she changed her voter registration to reflect her new address. However, after voting correctly in Ward 2 on November 7, 2023, she requested a provisional ballot for Ward 3 after talking with Pearson. DouglasNow.com has obtained a copy of the provisional ballot request. On the request is written “Believe to be reg @ different address.” After voting with the provisional ballot in Ward 3, the voter and Pearson left the polling place with the Ward 2 ballot still in the voter’s possession.
During the vote count after the polls closed, election officials noticed that there was one more ballot cast than there was counted on the machines. They figured out what happened and tossed the Ward 3 provisional ballot. The Ward 2 ballot wasn’t counted because it was never scanned.
DouglasNow.com reached out to both Pearson and the voter. Pearson did not respond to text messages and did not answer or return calls placed to her cell phone. DouglasNow.com did speak with the voter; she said she was at a doctor’s appointment and would call back. She never called and did not reply to a text message. DouglasNow.com attempted to call her back multiple times but she did not answer or return the calls.
The third component of the story took place on November 14, 2023, at the monthly elections board meeting when elections superintendent Christy Nipper discussed the November 7 election with the board. She mentioned that there had been a missing ballot and explained what had happened and how her staff handled it. Pearson was in attendance but the voter was not.
Speaking to the board, Nipper had documentation showing where the voter was registered. “She insisted on voting a provisional for Ward 3 and that’s where her address is [in Ward 2],” said Nipper to the board as she showed board members paperwork that displayed the voter’s registration information.
Pearson, who was in the audience, asked Nipper if the voter had changed her address after she moved from Ward 3. Pearson never denied that the voter lived in Ward 2; she only questioned whether or not she was registered to vote in Ward 2. Nipper responded that on September 15, 2022, the voter had changed her voter registration address. Nipper said that, on election day, the voter told her that she believed she was registered at 1101 Winterset Circle – a Ward 3 address that she not lived at since 2019.
At this point, Pearson spoke up, stating that the voter told her that she hadn’t changed her voter registration address. Nipper then told Pearson that she had lived in several places over the last few years and she had moved her voter registration each time. Pearson insisted that the voter had not changed her address. “’Cause most people, when they move, they don’t change their voter registration address,” said Pearson, implying that Pearson had possibly instructed the voter to vote in Ward 3 even though she knew the voter lived in Ward 2. Nipper, holding a voter registration card that the voter had filled out when she changed addresses, responded: “This is a voter registration card that she filled out and signed.”
Pearson shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t understand it. She swears she did not change it. Most people don’t even know to change their voter registration address when they move,” she said.
“Now Miss Olivia, not to rebuttal on you there, but she changed it several times. So it sounds like when she moves, she changes it,” said board chair Andy Thomas. Pearson continued to insist that she didn’t change her address, stating that she couldn’t have done it because the voter couldn’t read. Nipper responded by saying that someone came in and helped her change the address. “The most recent one . . . someone signed it that they assisted her,” said Nipper.
“That’s interesting,” stated Pearson.
The combination of the video footage showing the voter folding the ballot and Pearson’s comments in the elections board meeting imply that Pearson delivered a voter who she knew lived in Ward 2 to the polls to vote in a Ward 3 election for a candidate in which she hoped would succeed her as city commissioner. Pearson claims to speak for the disenfranchised but what happened in this instance is the voter she attempted to help became disenfranchised through Pearson’s plan. Her vote did not count and she was disqualified from participating in the electoral process.
Then there’s this: It is also a violation of state law for an unauthorized person to remove a ballot from a polling place. Several different Georgia code sections apply to the removal of ballots from precincts.
OCGA 21-2-562 states the following:
- Any person who willfully:
- Inserts or permits to be inserted any fictitious name, false figure, false statement, or other fraudulent entry on or in any registration card, electors list, voter’s certificate, affidavit, tally paper, general or duplicate return sheet, statement, certificate, oath, voucher, account, ballot, or other record or document authorized or required to be made, used, signed, returned, or preserved for any public purpose in connection with any primary or election;
- Alters materially or intentionally destroys any entry which has been lawfully made therein; or
- Takes or removes any book, affidavit, return, account, ballot, or other document or record from the custody of any person having lawful charge thereof, in order to prevent the same from being used or inspected or copied as required or permitted by this chapter shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or to pay a fine not to exceed $100,000.00, or both.
- Any person who willfully neglects or refuses, within the time and in the manner required by this chapter, to deliver any such document described in subsection (a) of this Code section into the custody of the officers who are required by this chapter to use or keep the same shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Numbers 1 and 3 could apply here, with #3 being the most applicable.
Other code sections address potential violations as well. OCGA 21-2-574 states: “Any person, other than an officer charged by law with the care of ballots or a person entrusted by any such officer with the care of the same for a purpose required by law, who has in his or her possession outside the polling place any official ballot shall be guilty of a felony.”
Two other sections, 21-2-603 and 21-2-604, are rather lengthy and address conspiracy to commit voter fraud (603) and criminal solicitation to commit election fraud (604). DouglasNow.com spoke with four different attorneys located throughout the state, all of whom believe, after reading the code sections, that they apply in varying degrees to the incident that occurred in Douglas on election day. One expert who is well versed in election law believes all apply.
What makes this incident unique is that there is video evidence of what happened. The voter is plainly seen taking a paper ballot, looking at it, then folding it and placing it in her pocketbook after talking with Pearson. Though you cannot see her request and fill out the provisional ballot (this video stops before that takes place), DouglasNow.com has a copy of the provisional application the voter filled out after the video ends. Longer playing video shows the voter leave the precinct with the ballot still in her possession.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office have stated that these are the kinds of things he would like to end. These incidents can be difficult to prove; however, few have the kind of video evidence that this one has. The ball is in Raffensperger’s court.
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