Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

The Political Vine is the home of political news, satire, rants, and rumors.


The Railroading of Laura Gallegos

by Bill Simon

BACKGROUND OF RELEVANT EVENTS

September 2008-October 2008 timeframe: Preparation for election commences with the checking-out process of the voting machines. Laura Gallegos (pronounced guy-AY-gos) and Gina Lofton (two Lowndes County BOE employees) placed each machine in pre-test mode and performed logic and accuracy testing (“L & A” tests) on the machines used for the general election as Gallegos had performed as trained for eight years. During the testing, Gallegos discovered that “Machine 17” would not print correctly. She believed that machine had a problem and marked the machine as needing repair to send to Kennesaw for repair as instructed by her supervisor, Lowndes County Elections Superintendent Deb Cox. Cox instructs Gallegos to mark the test card containing 947 test votes as a “bad card” and to place the card in a locked room. Gallegos applied a sticky note to the card and marked the note as the card being “bad” and not to be used, and placed the card in the locked room. Gallegos also notified Asst. Supervisor of Elections Susan Malkam about the card.

After she and Lofton performed all required testing, Gallegos proceeded to fill-out the L&A paperwork for the certification of the machine tests. At some time during this process of filling it out, she was called away from her desk, and she left the paperwork on her desk. That partially filled-out paperwork was removed without her knowledge and not seen again. (Note: this information on the election machine testing was derived from Laura Gallegos’s complaint filed with the SEB last December 8, 2009)

November 4, 2008 (Election Night): Gallegos was assigned to Precinct #21 at the First Christian Church. Supervisor Cox had sent only four machines to the precinct when the precinct had about ten thousand voters registered at that location. Poll lines were backed-up and people were being sent away to other locations by the poll workers. Gallegos remained at the precinct for the remainder of the day until after closing and tabulation was complete for that precinct.

At the Elections headquarters, someone performed the vote accumulation by uploading all memory cards into the machine. The Lowndes County Board of Elections later certified the results and uploaded the results to the Secretary of State.

Approximately two weeks after November 4, 2008: The county election office is notified by the Secretary of State’s office that there is a discrepancy between the number of votes received, and the number of actual voters who picked-up a ballot: The SOS claimed there were 947 extra votes that were included in the upload that could not be accounted for to match voters. Laura Gallegos worked on researching the issue and discovered that the card that had the 947 test votes on it (the one that was supposed to have remained in the locked room) were included in the actual election results during a re-accumulation. She reported it to Deb Cox.

Asst. Superintendent Susan Malkam asked Gallegos to complete the L&A paperwork regarding the machine testing (recall that the paperwork had been removed from her desk before Gallegos could finish it). Gallegos did as instructed, initialing the paperwork on behalf of both technicians who had performed the original testing.

Later, Malkam asked Gallegos to resign because of the problem with the test votes and Gallegos refused. Deb Cox requested the board to terminate Laura over objections from board member Cheryl Oliver. The board never questioned Gallegos about her actions and voted 2-1 to terminate her over the objections of Cheryl Oliver.

Deb Cox wrote a letter to the SOS-IG’s office stating that Gallegos may have “willfully interjected the bad card into the results, forged the initials of another worker, and maliciously purged a file to cover it up her failure to perform the L&A testing properly.” Cox also claims in this letter that Gallegos never told her about the bad card associated with “Machine #17” as discovered back during the testing phase, pre-election time.

An investigator with the state elections division (Steve McBrayer) was assigned the case by either Shawn LaGrua or Chris Harvey. McBrayer proceeded to investigate the allegations and a report was written that laid all charges and the responsibility for the 947 extra votes against Laura Gallegos.

On June 2, 2009, a case was laid-out by Chris Harvey against Laura Gallegos. The SEB voted to bind the case over to the AG’s office for a probable cause hearing.

On January 14, 2010, a probable cause hearing commenced in Lowndes County. After nearly 2.5 hours of testimony and presentation by the AG’s office, the judge decide to dismiss the case, citing the failure of Deb Cox to properly swear Gallegos with the oath she was required to swear to be a designated “elections officer” with the County.

So…if you were going to frame someone, wouldn’t you need a motive…?

At the ALJ hearing a few weeks ago, in testimony offered by James Long with the Kennesaw elections department, Long confirmed that there was no “malicious purging” of a memory card. Gallegos had followed the procedures she had been trained to do for eight years.

And, seriously, why would she, after all those years, decide to “maliciously purge” a file on a card? What does “maliciously purge” mean anyway? Does a voter card have feelings that it can judge when someone does something to it? Can it feel when someone is treating it “maliciously” and when someone is treating it “gently?” Bizarre accusations, to say the least.

Though Gallegos’s complaint against Deb Cox has not yet been heard in front of the SEB, I tend to believe her side of the story more than I believe Deb Cox’s allegations in her complaint to the SOS-IG. I believe Gallegos did notify Cox of the bad card in the September-October time frame, and Cox instructed her to mark the card as bad, and then place it in the locked room at the election headquarters, which Gallegos says she did. I also believe Gallegos when she says the L&A paperwork was removed from her desk without her knowledge, before she had a chance to complete it.

I believe, in fact, that Cox had a plan quickly conceived to deliberately screw over Gallegos when she was informed by Gallegos of the bad card that had 947 votes on it that could not be erased. And later, I suspect it was Deb Cox who removed the unfinished L&A paperwork from Gallegos’s desk. Why? To frame Gallegos. Again, why?

Because in June of 2008, Laura Gallegos, an elections custodian who had worked for the Lowndes County Board of Elections for 8 years had finally reached the breaking point of contending with her boss, Elections Superintendent Deb Cox. Cox had created a hostile environment of verbally abusing Gallegos and other workers in public for a long time. So much so that Gallegos composed and filed her first Complaint Letter to the Lowndes County Board of Elections that described the atmosphere of working under Deb Cox’s leadership. According to this letter, Deb Cox seems to have had a bit of a problem with her use of obscene language and treatment of subordinates.

Later, in November 2008, Gallegos filed a 2nd Complaint Letter to the Lowndes County BOE, and this one describes a much worse atmosphere for her working conditions. (Now, I suspect that the reason why Cox had intensified her attacks on Gallegos in November 2008 was because Cox had her plan already in place to screw Gallegos, so, why not enjoy torturing her as cruelly as she could possibly get away with?)

From these memos Gallegos sent to the Lowndes County BOE, I get the “motive” Deb Cox had to set-up and frame Gallegos. But, you’re probably thinking that “framing” someone is hardly “railroading” someone…unless, of course, you get help from your pal…

Fellow Republican Karen Handel

Rumor has it that Deb Cox and Karen Handel are good Republican friends, and they have even been seen going out to lunch together in Lowndes County, or just visiting for an hour or so on a nice afternoon, when Karen happened to be visiting the Valdosta/Lowndes County area.

SO, if you were a person who was accused of creating a hostile environment of such a magnitude that someone filed complaints against you, and you were really kinda mean-spirited, it really isn’t that inconceivable to plan to screw someone several weeks in advance, is it? Not when motive meets opportunity.

Nor, for that matter, is it inconceivable to share your experience of getting a letter filed against you from a darned subordinate with one of your best political pals, the Secretary of State…and to give said Secretary of State a bit of a “heads-up” that you found a way to pay back the employee who ratted you out.

SO…we go back to my original claim last week that Karen Handel’s Office of the Inspector General decided to act as though they were the State Elections Board, and commence to start their own investigation to immediately look into this claim by Deb Cox. After all, a Handel pal was the one claiming the wrongdoing…surely they must investigate as quickly as possible, right?…

The Way The SEB Is Supposed To Work

Now, in two separate conversations I’ve had with two separate people connected to Karen Handel, I’ve heard the following ideas proposed by them:

1) “Bill, there have been hundreds of cases and the investigations performed without any consultation with the SEB. I suppose those cases were all done wrong, huh?”

2) “Bill, don’t you think that if a law is ignored often enough, it tends to render it moot?”

Okay…back to the world where SANE people reside, let’s discuss what the Official Code of Georgia says are the duties of the State Election Board, and precisely the applicable section that I think former SOS Karen Handel ignored:

21-2-31(5): It shall be the duty of the State Election Board:

To investigate, or authorize the Secretary of State to investigate, when necessary or advisable the administration of primary and election laws and frauds and irregularities in primaries and elections and to report violations of the primary and election laws either to the Attorney General or the appropriate district attorney who shall be responsible for further investigation and prosecution. Nothing in this paragraph shall be so construed as to require any complaining party to request an investigation by the board before such party might proceed to seek any other remedy available to that party under this chapter or any other provision of law.

If the law did not intend to have the SEB be the sole entity to “decide” on whether an investigation was to be performed, why the heck would the legislature, so many years ago, put it in here that the SEB was to “authorize” the SOS to “investigate when necessary or advisable?”

I’ll tell you why it is written this way: Because the Legislature foresaw long ago that since the Chair of the SEB is the Secretary of State, the SOS acts, essentially, as a “juror” of the proceedings to decide on what happens to a complaint that comes before the SEB. And, it would never be a good idea to allow the investigator/prosecutor of a case to be able to sit on a jury to hear that case, would it? We’re not a Carribean dictatorship where the judge, jury, and prosecutor are all the same people, are we? Didn’t think so…

So, basically, the folks who set-up this law were pretty good forecasters of what might happen. They did not want to grant the SOS to have the power to open-up secret investigations on political enemies (or, in the case of Gallegos, enemies of political friends). Thus the reason why the SEB is the only legal entity given the sole authority to either a) investigate a complaint on their own (and, OCGA 21-2-31(8) specifically allows them to employ such assistants as necessary to accomplish these investigations), or b) specifically authorize the SOS to open an investigation.

There was no SEB meeting that could have occurred in November or December of 2008 to “authorize” SOS Karen Handel to proceed with an investigation on Deb Cox’s claims. Therefore, Handel overstepped her bounds and authority, which is a violation of her oath of office. And, depending on how many times these investigations occured in other complaints, each time an investigation was initiated without being authorized by the SEB, in a duly called and held meeting, each of those times is another count of a violation of her oath of office.

Now, there will be claims by the Handel folks that:

1) “The AG’s personnel were right there for every meeting, and if they saw something wrong with the proceedings, why didn’t they speak up?” Answer: The AG’s office acts much like a parliamentarian at a political party meeting; I suspect the AG folks answer when called upon for a ruling, but pretty much stay silent otherwise so that THEY don’t get accused of overstepping their boundaries.

2) “So, Bill, who isn’t a lawyer, has no formal legal training, is now claiming that the AG’s office and the SOS have been ignoring state law?” Answer: Yes, that appears to be so. Otherwise, WHAT would be the purpose of specifically how the law is written with regard to the SEB being the entity to “authorize” the SOS to initiate an investigation? Why not write the law as “Either the SEB or the SOS can make a determination to open an investigation as they see fit.” NO, those wascally legislators from long ago had some weird reason on wording the law this way: To prevent one person from having TOO much power vested in their office.

3) “If the AG didn’t speak-up on the wrong way we were conducting meetings, why is it Karen’s fault?” Answer: Because, just like every person who either has a lawyer appointed to them, or hires one themselves, the ultimate responsibility lies on the party who the counsel is advising. She was responsible for reading and understanding the law she swore an oath to uphold. Can’t make that any plainer or simpler. If you swear an oath, you are the one responsible for upholding what you are swearing to, are you not? No one else is responsible, not the AG, not your general counsel, not the Easter Bunny. If you take an oath, are you not responsible for following your own oath of office, regardless of how the previous occupier of the office performed their duties?

SUMMARY OF STORY

You know, had Karen Handel not overreached with her power to help her friend Deb Cox royally screw Laura Gallegos, NONE of this regarding her overstepping her boundary as SOS to assume the power of the full SEB would have ever come out.

But, because she maliciously (in that high-school-girlish-clique kind of way) helped mow down Laura Gallegos, she is going to be exposed for her contribution to screwing Gallegos.

After Gallegos was terminated from the Lowndes County Board of Elections, she spent the next year trying to help make ends meet for family of 4 children with her husband, who still had a job. Recently, some property she owned was foreclosed on.

I’m pretty sure the actions of Deb Cox are going to land her in a pot of pretty hot water. Whether its falsely claiming Gallegos’s actions led to the 947-test vote upload, or, perhaps, misleading the judge while under oath a few weeks ago in the Administrative Law Hearing, Cox will get her due, eventually. Someone told me that her actions have set either the Lowndes County Board of Elections up for a good lawsuit of wrongful termination, or, perhaps the entire county.

Abuse of Power is the charge I lay against Karen Handel for her role in this Lowndes County election saga. While that might not actually be a written violation defined in OCGA, I’m pretty sure violation of her oath of office is.

One Response to “The Railroading of Laura Gallegos”

  1. Kelli Says:

    Deb Cox is not the nicest person and she is very rough, I may not have enjoyed working for her but I doubt highly that she tried to throw Laura under the bus.

Today's Deep Thought

If I was the head of a country that lost a war, and I had to sign a peace treaty, just as I was signing, I'd glance over the treaty and then suddenly act surprised. 'Wait a minute! I thought we won!'



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