Board of Elections votes to disqualify Chatham Co. Commission candidate

Updated: Oct. 27, 2020 at 5:58 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Chatham County Board of Elections has voted to disqualify a Chatham County Commission candidate.

Tony Riley was a candidate for the 2nd District seat. The hearing was held for Riley was held on Tuesday.

This means technically the Republican candidate in the race, Gator Rivers, is unopposed, and any votes cast for Riley won’t count. But Tuesday’s decision won’t go uncontested.

You can watch the hearing below:

#Watch: The Board of Elections is holding a hearing to contest the qualification of Tony Riley, Candidate for the Second District in the Chatham County Commissioners race. >>

Posted by WTOC-TV on Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The motion passed on a 3-2 vote. Riley is allowed to appeal the decision.

The hours long hearing to determine Tony Riley’s qualifications as a candidate got heated at times.

Ultimately, Board of Elections members Marianne Heimes and Debbie Rauers voted to disqualify Riley, members Antwan Lang and Malinda Hodge voted against disqualifying him, and Chairman Tom Mahoney served as tie-breaker, voting in favor of disqualification.

So now it’s on to the appeal process, where Riley and his legal counsel will ask a Chatham County Superior Court judge to weigh in. According to Riley’s attorney, there’s a chance that if Tuesday’s decision is overturned, that the County will have to pay for a special election to re-do the 2nd District Commission race.

“Voters know about Mr. Riley’s mistake that he made in his past. Voters know how to weigh that. But what the Board did here today was take away their rights, took away their rights, and ultimately they’re going to cost the tax payers of this County a whole lot of money," said Will Claiborne, who represented Riley at the hearing.

“We’ll do whatever is ordered by a Superior Court judge and whatever’s required by law. And of course, we’ve handled special elections before. I don’t know, I don’t have any idea whether that’s where we’re going. I’m not saying that’s where we’re going. All I know is what we did today, that we did our duty today under the laws and the constitution of the State of Georgia," Mahoney said.

As for Riley, he says he’s still going to vie for the 2nd District Commission seat.

“Thank you to the voters of the 2nd District for your continued support. And I want you to know that I am a fighter. I will continue to fight, I will continue to campaign in this race and I look forward to a victory on November 3rd," Riley said.

The Board of Elections Chairman says they’ll also be putting signs up at polling locations to let voters in Chatham County’s 2nd District know that Riley’s been disqualified. That’s a move Riley’s attorney will also be challenging by filing a temporary restraining order in court soon.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Chatham County Board of Elections passed a motion to challenge the qualifications of a Chatham County Commission candidate.

The board chairman stated during Monday’s meeting that Tony Riley, a candidate for 2nd District Chatham County Commissioner, has a felony conviction on his record for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

In a 3 to 2 vote, the Board of Elections decided to hold a hearing on Riley’s qualifications.

The information regarding Riley’s past was gathered over the weeks following the August runoff election by the local lead of the Georgia Coalition of the People’s Agenda. Carry Smith says two candidates she voted for in the Aug. 11 runoff in Chatham County didn’t win. So, a few days later, she began researching the candidates who would be on the ballot in November.

“I researched the County Commission chair race, I researched the district attorney race, and then I also researched the district two race as a resident of district two,” Smith said.

Smith says she spent the better part of the next two months looking at candidate qualification information and doing online searches. While doing an internet search for Riley, Smith says she found what appeared to be a past conviction that wasn’t listed on Riley’s candidate affidavit.

“I saw nothing. He didn’t have any acknowledgment of any prior convictions,” Smith said.

WTOC requested Riley’s candidate qualifying forms to independently verify and have yet to receive it.

Monday night, the Chatham County Board of Elections chairman told us if Riley was released from prison in 2011 like documents Smith provided say, he could be disqualified. But Riley will have a chance to defend himself in the hearing conducted by the election’s superintendent.

“This is an opportunity for him to present information that we would not know. Because he’s going to have documents that maybe we’re not privy to, and this is a hearing,” Smith said.

According to the election’s chairman, the Qualifications Hearing has been rescheduled to Oct. 27. A location and time will be determined.

In this election cycle, the political parties qualified candidates.

The Chairman of the Chatham County Democratic Committee says if background checks are needed, the qualifying process has to change.

“If you want to fix the issue, you change the qualification process and say we’re the ones who need to go through all the deep digging or you give us the funds where we can go out there and do the background check but all we do is qualify," said Chatham County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jones.

Jones says during this process the committee accepts a candidate’s information and declaration. He also says those items are then given to the Board of Elections.

Jones says he would like the board to decide Riley’s fate after this election cycle.

“I’m asking the Board of Elections to do, is to just let this election cycle go through and then whatever needs to be done after the election cycle that’s what we do. But don’t take away from the people in the second district the opportunity to vote for the two candidates.”

WTOC has learned a qualification challenge has also been submitted against the Republican Candidate Larry “Gator” Rivers.

The Board of Elections is looking into the legitimacy of the challenge.

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