Election board holds hearing to determine qualifying of candidate

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2016


AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Elections held a called meeting Tuesday for a hearing on Board of Elections Supervisor Robert Brady’s challenge to a qualifier for public office.
Qualifying for the May 24 Primary Election was held by the Sumter County Republican Party and the Sumter County Democratic Party from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 7-10 and from 8 a.m. to noon March 11.
It was on Friday, March 11 that Renae Barnes Kellam presented herself to Janice Harris, who was conducting qualifying for the local Democratic Party. The process works as follows: the candidate qualifies with the party by filling out paperwork and signing an oath and paying the qualifying fee. Then, the superintendent of elections verifies the information. In this case, Brady could not verify the paperwork that Kellam presented and she was not qualified to seek election to the office of Clerk of Superior Court. That’s when a hearing became necessary.
All members of the Board of Elections were present at the hearing: Chairman Mike Tracy, who conducted the hearing, and board members Phil Deese, June Ewing, James Gaston and Raven Payne.
Kellam was accompanied by local attorney Sam Merritt, for whom she works at the local Public Defender’s Office, who is representing her pro bono. Sumter County attorney, Kimberly Reid, was not present.
The hearing, scheduled for 4 p.m., finally got underway at 4:17 p.m.
Brady explained that the hearing was on the challenge to Kellam’s qualification and the board would decide whether his challenge should stand or be overturned. He also explained that there would be no arguments during the hearing but board members would ask questions of Kellam and Merritt.
Brady presented the basis for his challenge. He said Renae Barnes Kellam filed her paperwork in that name and one of the qualifications is that the candidate must be eligible to vote in the election for which he/she is seeking  office. Upon checking Kellam’s name in the Sumter County voter registration list, he found no one by the name of Renae Barnes Kellam, he said. Checking further, he did find a Katherine Renae Kellam, with the same birth date as Renae Barnes Kellam, but that voter had not voted since the Presidential Preference Primary in 2008.
As the board members examined Renae Barnes Kellam’s paperwork, Chairman Tracy asked her why used that name. She said she was born and raised in Sumter County so she thought that by including her maiden name it would help people recognize her. “I was never told my name had to match what’s on my license,” she said.
Brady stated, “That individual (Renae Barnes Kellam) doesn’t qualify because the name doesn’t exist in the system.”
Merritt disagreed “as a matter of law,” and said he wanted to address the board “at some point.”
Renae Barnes Kellam insisted that she has voted since 2008, saying that she voted for both of her brothers (Rick Barnes, who serves on the Sumter County Board of Education, and Russ Barnes, former state court judge).
Brady said that Katherine Renae Barnes is a registered voter in Sumter County but is “inactive.”
Chairman Tracy commented that since the Democratic Party representative didn’t show up until right before noon on that final day of qualifying, there was no time to repair the paperwork.
“It can’t be fixed after the fact,” Brady said.
Renae Barnes Kellam insisted again that she had voted since 2008, and “nowhere on that paper does it say that first, last and middle name has to appear on the voting list.”
Board member Deese asked her is she signs everything as Renae Barnes Kellam, to which she responded, “most everything, my checking account.”
Tracy commented, “You would think the party would be responsible.” Renae Barnes Kellam said that when she turned in her paperwork and paid her fee, she was not asked for any identification.
Tracy said, “We have no interest in stopping someone from running, but there are regulations.”
Brady brought in several voting records: Merritt’s, Katherine Renae Kellam’s and his own, without allowing examination of any confidential details. He also said that the voter registration office has had no contact with Katherine Renae Kellam since 2008, and that she had been sent a notification in 2013, and had 40 days to respond, which she did not. He said that in June, had no contact been made with Katherine Renae Kellam, that her name would have been purged from the voter registration list.
Tracy allowed Merritt to comment. Merritt said “this is not my area of law and I’m not sure any of us are well versed in it.” He said he had called the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and had spoken with a John Holman who told him there was “flexibility” in the qualifying regulations.
Brady said he, too, had spoken with Holman and both of Holman’s bosses, and  Holman did not recall any conversations with Merritt.
“Where does the flexibility center,” asked Tracy, “to change the name or to accept the candidate despite her voting record?”
Merritt said the acceptance of the candidate’s voting record.
Board member Payne asked to see the “paper trail.” Merritt commented that the paperwork is the “key,” and asked the elections office to find the “actual document” proving that his client has voted since 2008.
Tracy suggested delaying a decision until the board members can see where she signed when voting.
Brady said, “Whatever we find with that, Renae Barnes Kellam has no voting or residence history in Sumter County.”
Merritt insisted, “there is no dispute that Renae Barnes Kellam is sitting here next to me.”
In conclusion, Tracy said after they find if she voted and in what name, the board will make a decision and will notify Renae Barnes Kellam.
“Your party let you down a good bit,” Tracy said.
Should the board uphold the challenge, Renae Barnes Kellam has the right to appeal in Sumter Superior Court.