Norwood questions 2009 mayoral vote as another Atlanta runoff looms

Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood accused Mayor Kasim Reed and his campaign of using widespread voter fraud to help him eke out a narrow 2009 runoff victory.

In remarks to a group in June, and obtained this week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the councilwoman said she suspected many of the voters in the contest eight years ago were fraudulent, based partly on her conversations with an elections expert.

VIDEO: Mayoral candidates trade ethics violations accusations

She also told the audience that she’s on guard against a repeat in this year’s vote.

“We had known that people were busing people in, but I always assumed they were legitimate voters,” she told the Buckhead Young Republicans group. “You know, I had no idea they were busing people in that weren’t legitimate voters.”

Reed’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that the claims were “verifiably false” and that Norwood should have challenged the results in 2009 if she had proof they were invalid.

“She did not, because she could not,” said the statement. “She has no evidence to back up her claims. She has been a public official for the past four years and never raised any concerns about the integrity of our voting system.”

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, did not immediately comment on Norwood’s claims.

‘Secret weapon’

Reed and Norwood have had a poisonous relationship since that 2009 race, which ended with Norwood’s defeat by roughly 700 votes. And Reed has been a relentless opponent of Norwood’s bid this year to succeed him.

He formally endorsed Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms in October and has been among her most outspoken advocates ahead of the Dec. 5 runoff. He called Norwood a “loser” this week. Norwood countered that Reed should be “ashamed” for using such harsh language.

Norwood has frequently talked about what she sees as voting irregularities to groups and in media interviews. And a Norwood supporter urged the Secretary of State to investigate after the 2009 runoff, but soon retracted her claim because of a “misunderstanding” about the data.

The remarks to the Buckhead Young Republicans group, however, represent some of Norwood’s strongest accusations against Reed. In that recording, which Norwood verified was accurate, she asked members of the audience not to record her discussion.

“This is my secret weapon,” Norwood said, “because I know this stuff and people don’t know that I know this stuff, it’s never gone public.”

‘Van with six felons’

Over the next 10 minutes of the recording, she tells the group that her campaign was particularly vigilant during Election Day eight years ago, and that she showed up in person to try to ward off any potential trickery.

“It’s a lot harder to drive a van with six felons, you know guys who are going to commit felonies by voting illegally, if somebody’s watching,” she said.

But she accused Reed’s campaign of pulling off a series of hardball maneuvers that helped him win the race both before and after the polls closed.

First, she said, Reed’s campaign used a “proprietary” list of voters who once lived in Atlanta housing projects that were now demolished and urged them to return to their precincts even if they no longer lived in the city.

“So what happened was, they knocked on the door Saturday night, and said, ‘Jimmy Johnson, you are out here in Mableton, and we are glad for you. And you’re getting money from the government. But you’re still registered on Henry Thomas Drive. And we just need you to come back in on Tuesday and vote on Henry Thomas Drive.’ ”

She said Reed’s campaign reached beyond those voters in the razed housing projects to also include people on government assistance “who had left houses that were abandoned” but were still on voting rolls.

‘Late night fluffing’

Norwood also accused Reed’s supporters of scanning voter certificates shortly after the polls closed and cross-checking them with the list of his supporters. Then, she said, they forged voter certificates for his backers who didn’t show up to vote.

Reed’s supporters then coordinated with officials to withhold precinct results until after 10:30 p.m., she said, so “they would know the number to beat.” She had a name for this practice: “Late night fluffing.”

“You know everybody on your list who is supposed to come through and vote that day. You know how old they are, you know what race they are, you know what sex they are,” she said. “So, if you know that your little ladies who are over 80 years old don’t drive after dark, and it’s now 7:30 on December 1, you can just write out voter certificates for them.”

She said poll workers looked the other way, ignoring that the voter certificates didn’t have a signature match.

“Now, what the poll workers are supposed to do is to check a little box that says they saw a photo ID. But what if they didn’t check?” she said. “Well they hadn’t committed fraud, they just forgot to check.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Norwood said she was frustrated her comments surfaced less than two weeks before the vote. She said she’s been “really careful about not putting all of this out there for years, because I didn’t think this would be helpful” for the city’s reputation.

“I am really sorry that someone put this out there. I worked for eight years not to put this out there,” she said. “It would have been an intriguing story, but I thought it would be harmful to Atlanta, its image and its future. If things are wrong, I quietly fix them. I don’t grandstand.”

Norwood said she pushed to join the Fulton County Board of Elections in 2012 in part because of her frustration with the 2009 vote and that she had full faith in the county’s election director, Rick Barron, to “run an impartial and fair election.”

“If they are being run with his directives, I believe we’ll have a fair election,” she said. “I welcome any investigation and any scrutiny into this vote.”

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