In our Republic, nothing is guarded more than our right to elect those that ask to lead us. This is understandable, given that a nation of approximately 311 million people is led by 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators, and one President.
These 536 elected individuals, with varying degrees of power, are entrusted with the duty to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
As we inch ever closer to Election Day 2012, I have for some reason found myself reminiscing back to the 2000 presidential election and the chaos that ensued.
I can recall, as a first-year law student, sitting in the living room of our small apartment in Knoxville watching the election results. I sat on the sofa, with a Contract Law casebook in my lap and a highlighter and pen in hand, knowing that my reading assignment could not wait.
However, I was unable to turn away. I was captivated. History was unfolding before me.
The election looked to be historically close, but that had not deterred numerous news outlets from attempting to be the first to call the election for a candidate. Eleven minutes before the polls closed in the panhandle of Florida, many news agencies had deemed Al Gore as the winner of the Sunshine State.
Shortly thereafter, the same news agencies that had called the state for Gore had now reversed their position and called the state for Bush. This led Dan Rather to famously declare “Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall. George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.”
However, as we know, this book was far from written.
Reports began to come out of Florida about allegations of voter irregularity and possible recounts. We then learned that while Gore had called Bush to concede, he was now having second thoughts in light of these reports.
The nation waited to hear from the sitting vice president; however, the night soon passed and the morning had come without us hearing from Gore.
Instead, this fight would rage on, and the story would now turn to South Florida and the infamous hanging, swinging and even pregnant chads.
Ultimately, it was the Supreme Court of the United States that halted the recounts in ruling that the Florida Supreme Court’s method for recounting ballots was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that no alternative method for a recount could be established prior to the Dec. 12 deadline for appointment of electors.
And with that, it was finished. The national drama that was the 2000 Presidential election was finally over.
Thankfully, Georgia has never seen an election controversy rise to the level of similar national importance (some might say embarrassment) as the 2000 Florida recount. However, more than few individuals have asked me over the years about how Georgia law provides for election contests.
The process for such challenges is outlined in the Georgia Code. O.C.G.A. 21-2-521 provides that at the conclusion of any primary or general election, a candidate or “any aggrieved elector who was entitled to vote for such person or for or against such question” may contest the nomination or election of any candidate for municipal, county, state, or federal office.
The individual bringing the challenge may do so only against the person whose election or nomination is contested, the person(s) whose eligibility to seek office is contested, the election superintendent who conducted the election, or the public officer who formally declared the results of the election.
An election contest must be brought within five days of the official certification of the election results and can be brought on any of the following grounds: 1) alleged misconduct or fraud of any election official; 2) the ineligibility of the defendant for the nomination or office in question; 3) the receiving of illegal votes or the rejection of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the election result; 4) any error in counting the votes or declaring the winner, if such error would change the result; and 5) for any other cause that shows that another person was legally nominated or elected.
While the process and grounds for an election challenge in Georgia are relatively straightforward, any such challenge is of course inherently messy and fraught with controversy.
Here is hoping that Tuesday’s election comes and goes with no controversy and a clear winner.
We could all use a decent night’s sleep.
C. Mark Anderson is an attorney in Woodstock, concentrating in business law, wills and trusts, and civil litigation. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org