SIERRA VISTA — Elections officials in Georgia are investigating whether Cochise County judicial candidate Sandy Russell voted illegally in that state when she cast an absentee ballot in 2016.
In an email to the Herald/Review earlier this week, an official with the Georgia Secretary of State said that an investigation “has been opened.” The query is based on Russell’s absentee ballot from May 2016. The ballot was cast while Russell says she was living in Cochise County.
But Russell’s opponent Anne Carl, says Russell voted legally in Georgia.
In an appeal filed in the Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday, Carl, in part, contends that Russell voted in Georgia because she was a resident of that state and not a resident of Arizona. She is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to declare Russell ineligible for the office of superior court judge because she claims Russell has not lived in Arizona for five years, a requirement for that position.
Carl is appealing a decision made last week by Cochise County Superior Judge James Conlogue that Russell’s name could remain on the November ballot as a candidate for superior court judge for Division 5. Carl, also a candidate vying for judge, had filed a civil suit against Russell, claiming that Russell had not lived in the area long enough to qualify for the bench.
State law requires that a superior court judge candidate live in their county five years on the date they take office. That means Russell should have lived in Cochise County from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2021.
The judge said Russell had proved she was a resident of Cochise County since before Jan. 4, 2016. Carl was asking for an injunction that would have prevented Russell’s name from appearing on the ballot. The day Carl’s complaint was heard, the ballots were being proofed at the printer, county officials said.
In her appeal filed Tuesday, Carl states that because Russell voted absentee in Georgia in May 2016, she was therefore a Georgia resident.
“There is simply no reading of Georgia law that can support the conclusion that someone other than a resident of Georgia can vote in a Georgia election,” Carl stated in the opening brief of her appeal. “Russell claims — in this case and on her statement of qualification — to have established her new residency in Arizona before the date on which she cast her ballot in Georgia. Not possible.”
“Casting her ballot in Georgia established as a matter of law that, when she was voting in Georgia, and Georgia was where she still maintained a home, work and some continued co-parenting responsibilities at, and by definition intended to remain, she could not at that time also be a resident of Arizona,” Carl added.
Russell meanwhile, called Carl’s appeal “frivolous” in a comment to the Herald/Review Thursday. She also said she is not worried about the investigation launched by the Georgia Secretary of State.
“I am unaware of any ‘investigation,’” Russell said in a text message Thursday. “If the ‘investigation’ becomes a legal proceeding, the proper place to respond to it would be in a courtroom with due process rights afforded.”
If it’s determined that Russell voted illegally in Georgia, she could be charged with a felony. According to the Georgia statute that state elections officials referred the Herald/Review to: “Any person who votes or attempts to vote by absentee ballot at any primary or election under Article 10 of this chapter who knows that he or she is not qualified to vote shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or to pay a fine not to exceed $100,000.00, or both.”
Meanwhile, in an email Thursday, Carl explained her appeal hinges on a “very narrow legal issue.”
“If a person is straddling two states, and is registered to vote in and actually votes in one of the states, is that person a resident at that time in the state in which she voted?” Carl said. “Under AZ and GA law, one can only be a resident of one state at a time, and can only register to vote and vote in one state at a time.”
“She registered and voted in GA, and therefore — as a matter of law — she was a resident of GA in early 2016,” Carl said.
In her appeal, Carl is asking that if is a decision is rendered in the Arizona Supreme Court before Oct. 5, the county also include a notice in the mail-in ballots sent to voters.
“Appellant urges the Court to declare Ms. Russell ineligible for the office of Superior Court Judge,” Carl wrote in her appeal. “That Ms. Russell successfully concealed her lack of qualification until ballots were printed should not mean voters should not be notified of her ineligibility.”
According to the appellate case information sheet filed in the Arizona Supreme Court, Russell has until Sept. 21 to reply to Carl’s appeal. If Carl chooses to respond, she has to do so by Sept. 23. The matter will be decided without oral arguments.