Midstate candidate disqualified to run in Georgia Senate race

Diane Vann qualified against Senator John Kennedy, who led the committee that moved Vann 200 yards out of his district


Liz Fabian

Macon’s Diane Vann listens to an assistant attorney general challenging her State Senate District 18 candidacy during an Administrative Law Judge hearing May 19.

Five weeks into her Georgia Senate District 18 campaign, Diane Vann was shocked when she went to early vote. Her name wasn’t on the ballot.

Georgia Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Chairman John F. Kennedy, who she was challenging in the Republican primary, wasn’t on the screen either.

At the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections on May 7, Senate District 25’s race was on Vann’s ballot. She pulled her voting card before casting her ballot and reported what she thought was an error.

Last Saturday, Administrative Law Judge Lisa Boggs ruled Vann is not qualified to run because her north Macon home on Commanche Drive, where she has lived since 1991, is no longer in District 18.

The Secretary of State’s Office accepted Boggs’ ruling Monday afternoon, so votes cast for Vann will not count.

Judge Boggs held an expedited hearing Thursday in Atlanta after the Secretary of State’s Office filed a challenge to Vann’s candidacy on May 12, five days after Vann alerted Macon-Bibb’s interim elections supervisor that there was a problem.

In closing arguments in the Thursday hearing, Assistant Attorney General Lee Stoy said: “If Ms. Vann had lived maybe 200 (yards) south, she would probably be in District 18, but unfortunately after redistricting, she’s now in District 25. In light of the constitutional requirements that she live in the district for which she seeks for at least a year, she’s no longer qualified to run.”

State Senate District 18 candidate Diane Vann swears to tell the truth before Judge Lisa Boggs at an Administrative Law hearing May 19 challenging her candidacy. (Liz Fabian)

Vann, who represented herself at the hearing, told the court she had been campaigning for five and a half weeks under the impression she was still in District 18.

She testified that she heard the State Senate process wrapped up late last year, but struggled to find a street-level map of the senate district. She sought maps from multiple sources including the State Capitol, county boards of election and another Republican running for Congress, she said.

“I searched prior to qualifying and found no street map available to me online or from the capital that showed that my address was no longer within State Senate District 18,” Vann told the court.

As late as Monday morning, the Secretary of State’s website “Find Your Legislator” link to Open States still shows Vann’s address in District 18. Many voters did not have new precinct cards in hand before early voting began.

In closing arguments in last week’s hearing, Vann said: “Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger allowed the qualification of candidates to go forward the week of March 7, 2022, before the publication and dissemination of the finalized recertification maps that could impact the eligibility of candidates like me. I spent several thousand dollars of my hard-earned savings on this race. I acted in good faith with no suspicion that my State Senate district had been changed.”

Vann presented bills to the court showing nearly $10,000 she spent campaigning, not including her time or fuel expenses in traveling the six counties in District 18 – Monroe, Peach, Upson, Crawford and parts of Houston and Bibb.

The Secretary of State’s Office showed that her district was changed in February, but it’s unclear when it was updated on the My Voter page, which relies on information submitted from county boards of elections.

An expedited hearing before Judge Lisa Boggs determined Diane Vann is not qualified to run in Georgia State Senate District 18. (Liz Fabian)

Vann said she only shared her plans to run with one other person before qualifying. Senator Kennedy said that during last year’s redistricting process he had no idea Vann was planning to run, nor did he know where she lived when the new maps were drawn and finalized.

“Would I have spent the thousands of dollars that I’ve spent to run a primary race when I could have simply… raised the issue and I would not have had to run a primary campaign because there’s not a third candidate. It’s just me,” Kennedy told The Macon Newsroom in a phone conversation Monday. “I mean, why would I have waited? But I learned about it apparently when she did, which was after the election had started.”

Kennedy said he didn’t learn Vann was not in District 18 until someone from the Republican Party called to inform him about Vann’s discovery at the voting booth earlier this month.

Vann told the judge she didn’t think the GOP had the correct maps during qualifying or they wouldn’t have accepted her $400 qualifying fee. In partisan races, the party collects the money and submits its candidates to be placed on the ballot. At least two other candidates, one Democrat and another Republican, are being challenged under similar circumstances related to redistricting moving them out of the districts they qualified for.

Kennedy said it’s up to the candidate to learn their district before signing the candidacy affidavit.

“It’s incumbent upon us, people that want to run, to know that we’re running right,” Kennedy said. “Especially the year after redistricting, when anyone who has anything to do with the political world, or not, knows that the lines across this whole country move around.”

Kennedy said the 2020 Census showed District 18 needed to pick up about 9,800 residents. Because the sides of the district are bordered by county lines, the process changed lines to the south and north, which placed Vann in District 25, he said.

Although Gov. Brian Kemp signed off on the Congressional and Georgia House and Senate maps in December, the Georgia Legislature continued the reapportionment process for local races like the Macon Water Authority and county commission races until late March. Vann said she was told repeatedly earlier this year that reapportionment was still in progress.

Since the last U.S. Census, Georgia moved up the primary from July to May, which further tightened the window to get ballots ready and update and mail new precinct cards.

Last year, elections officials from 120 of the state’s 159 counties unsuccessfully requested to delay qualifying and the primary for more than a month to give them additional time to prepare.

When polls open Tuesday, a notice of Vann’s disqualification will go up at the precincts involved in the six counties in District 18.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.