City Hall mug_ACC 2020 June 9 elections (copy) (copy)

Athens-Clarke County's City Hall. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the Clarke Superior Court decision to void former District 6 Commissioner Jerry Nesmith’s votes after he died three days before the June 9 election. 

The decision automatically declared NeSmith’s opponent, Jesse Houle, the winner. 

While Houle will take office in January, there’s a race between Houle and opponent Chad Lowery to fill the remainder of NeSmith’s term of about 6 weeks. The people of district 6 will vote for the winner on Nov. 3.

NeSmith received 1,866 votes while 1,405 went to Houle, according to the court opinion. The plaintiffs, including Athens GOP chair Gordon Rhoden, sued for a special election and challenged the June 9 results. 

“Because the applicable Georgia statutes dictate that votes cast on paper ballots for a candidate who has died before Election Day are void, none of the votes cast for NeSmith had legal effect,” Justice Charles J. Bethel wrote for the unanimous Georgia Supreme Court opinion.

The Clarke County Superior Court determined that the election for county commissioner was conducted with paper ballots and with the assistance of an optical scanning voting system and electronic ballot marking devices, saying that these were simply “alternate systems for marking or employing paper ballots.”

The Supreme Court upheld Georgia Code §§ 21-2- 437 (d) and 21-2-438 (a) that says if a candidate dies before a primary or general election, their votes will be voided.

With the decision, Houle will become commissioner in January, but from Nov. 3 through the end of the year, the seat is up for grabs.