Challenge against board candidate declared invalid

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 17, 2014 

John F. Thomas, an accountant working as an IRS revenue agent in Columbus, announced Wednesday at the Burger King on Wynnton Road, his candidacy for the District 2 seat on the Muscogee County School Board.

PHOTO BY MARK RICE — mrice@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

John F. Thomas can continue to run his campaign for the District 2 seat on the Muscogee County School Board because the challenge to his candidacy was declared invalid Monday.

An incomplete qualifying form isn't one of the reasons state law allows to challenge someone's candidacy, said Nancy Boren, executive director of the Muscogee County Elections and Registration Office. That was the reason Paul Voorhees used in his letter addressed to Boren on Friday, the deadline for challenges.

Voorhees, the owner of Ranger Joe's military supply store, gave the invocation at the re-election campaign announcement of District 2 incumbent John Wells, a businessman with interests in property management and construction. Thomas, an IRS agent, is running against Wells and two other candidates: Kar-Tunes Car Stereo owner John "Bart" Steed and Pratt & Whitney training and development coordinator Victor Morales.

Voorhees' challenge letter lists two places where Thomas didn't state on his Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit which seat on the board he seeks:

• In the blank that says "Circuit, District or Post if applicable," Thomas wrote "school board."

• In the blank that says "Election," Thomas wrote "school board" and added above "non-partisan."

In his challenge letter, Voorhees acknowledges Thomas does identify his precinct as District 2, but "this does not have anything to do with what office he is seeking," Voorhees wrote. "Since the school board has at-large seats and other named districts … there is no way to tell which race Mr. Thomas is attempting to qualify for."

Boren said Friday that the elections board would have to conduct a hearing. But after researching the law over the weekend and conferring with City Attorney Clifton Fay, Boren said, she determined there isn't a need for such a hearing.

The reasons the law allows for challenging qualifications, Boren said, are whether the candidate has paid the qualifying fee, is a resident, is an elector (meaning a registered voter), has lived in the district long enough, isn't a felon and doesn't owe back taxes.

That explanation doesn't satisfy Voorhees. He compared the situation to the re-election campaign of then-Muscogee County Coroner Bill Thrower in 2012, when the elections board disqualified him because a check his wife wrote the local Democratic Party for his qualifying fee was returned for insufficient funds.

"I don't disagree with what they did with Mr. Thrower," Voorhees said, "but this needs to be the same standard."

Georgia Code 21-2-6(d) expressly states that paying a qualifying fee with a check returned for insufficient funds automatically disqualifies the candidate, but no state law mentions an incomplete form as a reason for disqualification, Boren said. She also noted that, in a separate document filed on the same day, “Mr. Thomas completed a Declaration of Intention to accept campaign contributions where he listed the name of the office being sought as ‘School Board District 2.’”

Nonetheless, Voorhees vowed to find a judge that will hear his complaint.

When told about Boren's ruling, Thomas said, "I was never really that concerned. When I filled out the paperwork, the clerk in the office was double checking it. So how could I have done it wrong if the clerk in the office told me it was right?"

Thomas laughed and added, "But I was happy to keep my name in the paper, and I appreciate the publicity."

Wells admitted Friday that somebody told him Voorhees was going to file the challenge, but Monday he again insisted he had nothing to do with it. Asked for his reaction to Boren's decision, Wells said, "I don't have any reaction. I'm really not interested in it. … I'm an arm's reach from it. All I'm doing is running my campaign and serving the citizens of Muscogee County."

No other challenges have been made about this year's non-partisan candidates, Boren said. The non-partisan election day is May 20. Absentee ballots start being mailed April 5. Early voting starts April 28.

In an email to the Ledger-Enquirer earlier Monday, Voorhees wrote, "I would like to clarify several issues. To begin with I am a supporter of John Wells but neither he or his campaign have anything to do with this issue. Additionally, I have no ill will or negative remarks about or toward Mr. Thomas. My complaint to the elections office is based on my belief in fair play and the importance of maintaining consistency in election procedures."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkRiceLE.

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