By Yolanda Rodriguez and John Schaffner
Mary Norwood’s team is going through thousands of petition signatures collected to qualify her to run as an independent in this November’s election for the chair of the Fulton County Commission.
Norwood alleges in a lawsuit filed June 21 that incumbent Chairman John Eaves is attempting to block her from the ballot for the Nov. 2 election by disputing the signatures she has secured.
That suit was heard June 30 by Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter, who announced he was taking the matter under advisement and planned to rule on it July 2. The judge’s ruling will be posted on the website: www.reporternewspapers.net, as soon as possible.
Running as an independent candidate, Norwood must obtain signatures from 5 percent of Fulton County’s registered voters – a total of 22,700 signatures – on petitions asking she be placed on the ballot. Norwood said her team had collected about 15,000 signatures to date. The deadline for submitting the signatures is July 13.
“What is really important about this is not only are we going to be very close—so it really will make a difference—we also have voters, signators, who will be disenfranchised,” Norwood said in an interview outside the courtroom following the June 30 hearing.
Norwood’s attorney, Matt Maguire, said 2,000 to 3,000 signatures are really at issue because they were collected on forms which had the word Fulton preprinted rather than having the voter write the word “Fulton” as part of their address.
“If not allowed to be used after the signatures are submitted, it would be too late to obtain additional signatures,” Maguire added. “Having Fulton County preprinted on the forms is at worst neutral. At best it is an improvement,” he stated.
Buddy Darden, attorney for the Committee to Elect John Eaves, urged the judge not to become involved in the case “because he would in essence be taking the place of the elections board on the issue at hand.”
Following the hearing Darden said, “Do you want to let the judge of the Superior Court supervise the elections of Fulton County or do you want to have the duly constituted independent board, which had already been appointed and constituted by law, to make those decisions?”
Darden added, “We believe the judge will allow the board to do its job.”
Lee Park, representing the Fulton Board of Elections, also said the decision should be left up to the board.
Norwood’s campaign says that in May it obtained written approval from the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections to pre-type the word “Fulton” in the space provided for a signer’s county of residence. But Darden’s law firm claimed that each signer must write the word “Fulton,” along with his or her address, on the form.
In order to make certain that all of the signatures count toward winning a spot on the November ballot, Norwood sought an emergency ruling from the Fulton County Superior Court validating the signatures she already had obtained
“If I know this (getting a favorable ruling from the judge) is not going to work, I have to call 2,000 to 3,000 people and say please come by my office next week if you want your signatures counted,” Norwood added. The office is in The Peach shopping center, 2900 Peachtree Road in Buckhead.
Following the June 30 court hearing, Norwood was collecting signatures from passers-by outside the courthouse.
Tracy Haas, a 47-year-old Atlantan, signed the petition and commented: “As long as people understand they must live in Fulton County when they sign the form, it should not make any difference” whether they write the word Fulton or it is preprinted.