Atlanta’s Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms moves ahead as lawsuit looms

The only signs that talk of a lawsuit is impacting the plans of Atlanta Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms are the lawyers in dark suits who have attended recent Fulton County election board meetings.

Bottoms herself has shown no visible concern that her victory could be undone by a judge.

At a City Council meeting last week, she didn’t react when her opponent, fellow city Councilwoman Mary Norwood, said either Bottoms or someone else would occupy the mayor’s seat, hinting that a challenge was on the horizon.

Bottoms joined Mayor Kasim Reed on stage at the annual UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball on Saturday night to rousing applause as he introduced her as Atlanta’s 60th mayor.

Bottoms recounted a story about when she learned about the event, which raises money for college scholarships, in the newspaper.

“I said, ‘I wonder how you get tickets to that,” Bottoms said, laughing. “I stand here as a testament that God really does dream dreams bigger than we can dream for ourselves.”

Bottoms has little reason to worry.

For starters, Norwood has yet to file any legal action. Even if Norwood does go to court, judges are often loath to involve themselves in political disputes. The court would likely require a staggering amount of evidence to toss out an election and order a new one.

On Monday, Norwood said she was still considering the strength of her case. Under state law, she has until Thursday to file a challenge.

To be successful, she will have to show there were sufficient irregularities in election to cast doubt on Bottoms victory.

A recount last week showed that Bottoms defeated Norwood by 821 votes.

But Norwood’s attorney Vincent Russo has argued that hundreds of people in recently annexed areas should not have cast ballots in the mayor’s race. Russo said a recent State Supreme Court case that invalidated ordinances establishing other annexations, and it should also apply to areas that the Fulton County election board put within the city’s boundaries for the Dec. 5 runoff.

Those neighborhoods and business districts are located in southwest Atlanta, an area that Bottoms won.

The Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration on Monday said it was still tallying the number of people who cast ballots who lived in the areas identified by Russo.

At meeting on Saturday to re-certify Bottoms as Mayor-elect, Board Chairman Mary Carole Cooney, herself an attorney, said the board’s lawyers weren’t ready to respond to Russo’s argument.

The annexed areas aren’t the only votes that Norwood’s supporters are scrutinizing. Reports have surfaced about people not receiving absentee ballots. On Monday, the board said it had mailed out 4,096 ballots, but only 1,386 valid absentee ballots were returned.

Barron has blamed the problem on the U.S. Postal service, who this month replaced Atlanta’s Postmaster.

The board did not immediately respond to a request for those same statistics for November’s general election.

The absentee vote favored Norwood.

Norwood’s camp is also comparing the national change of address database to voting records for people who have listed a P.O. Box as their home address, Russo said.

Russo said his client has no interest in long legal battle, and hopes to gather enough evidence to make the judge’s decision easy.

But the days Norwood has left to make the call are numbered.

“The timeline is sooner, rather than later,” Russo said.

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