The state is nearing a conclusion of its year-old investigation of an unusual city-run City Council election and the case will have a hearing before the State Election Board, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

The investigation concerns the May 2016 special election for the City Council seat representing District 3, a seat eventually won by Chris Burnett in a June runoff. The District 3 election was held the same day as a county-run state primary election, but was conducted by the city itself at a single, separate polling place. That meant that citizens who wanted to vote in both elections had to visit two separate polls.

Poll manager Alicia Volk, right, feeds a ballot into a counting machine at City Hall while City Clerk Michael Casey looks on during the vote-counting after the May 24 City Council District 3 special election. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Shortly before the election, the Secretary of State’s office announced an investigation for possible polling place notice violations. The election continued and was decided in a June 2016 runoff that the city also conducted on its own.

“The investigation is still ongoing. However, it is in the final stages of review,” said Candice Broce, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, adding that the case will be “set for a hearing in front of the State Election Board.”

“I cannot disclose any additional details at this time,” Broce said.

Broce previously said the Election Board can choose to dismiss the case, issue a “letter of instruction” or forward the case to the state Attorney General’s office for legal action.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the city was unware of the investigation’s status and that the Secretary of State’s office had not recently requested any further information about the election.

“They haven’t said anything to us,” Kraun said.

The city was required to hold a special election when City Councilmember Graham McDonald resigned from the District 3 seat in March 2016 with more than a year left in his term. Normally, the county could host such a city election at the usual polling places, but the law requires a 90-day notification period for that to happen. For example, the city considered holding the special election on Nov. 8, which met the 90-day notification requirement and would have let the county run the election.

However, city officials decided that it was more important to fill the District 3 seat as soon as possible, and that it made sense to hold it on the same day as the May 24 state primary election. But that meant the city could not meet the 90-day notification period. Instead, the city was forced to run the special election itself at totally separate polling places.

It was the city’s first self-run election in since its founding in 2005. The city chose to open only a single polling place due to the expense, the challenge of finding poll workers, and conflicts with polling places already reserved by the county as state primary polls.

Advance voting was held at the same place as the state primary – the North Fulton County Government Service Center – but in a different room. Election Day voting was held in a Hammond Park building, as was the runoff election. Neither polling place was within District 3.

In approving the special election date and process, Mayor Rusty Paul and City Council members repeatedly acknowledged potential confusion and the possibility of a state investigation if the election was not conducted properly. The city set up a special web page to explain the voting process. Turnout in the special and runoff elections was higher than expected, city officials said.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.