Chatham County officials confirmed that Savannah mayoral candidate Tyrisha Davis was not registered to vote when she filed paperwork this summer to run for office in the November elections, a violation of the requirements for candidacy.
The director of the Chatham County Board of Registrars said Davis was considered unregistered from May 30 to Aug. 28. On Aug. 25, the last day to qualify for Savannah’s municipal elections, Davis paid $1,710 in cash at the office of Savannah City Clerk Mark Massey, the qualifying fee to appear on the ballot.
The fact that Davis was not a registered Georgia voter appears to be the second violation of the requirements necessary to stand in the mayoral race. Yet, more than a week after the election, it remains unclear what steps, if any, Massey took to validate the information the 36-year-old relative newcomer to Savannah provided, despite best practices that clerks in other Georgia cities follow.
As part of her registration, Davis also claimed on an official affidavit that her voting precinct was at the West Broad YMCA, information apparently based on the address she listed as her residency in west Savannah. Last week, The Current reported that the house listed on the form was vacant and the property manager said no one named Tyrisha Davis had formally leased the one-story house.
Davis was always considered a long shot in the three-way race to lead Georgia’s fifth-largest city. Despite not having a solid campaign presence since she declared her intent to run in June, Davis garnered 667 votes by the end of Election Day. Incumbent Mayor Van Johnson cruised to re-election with 16,783 votes, followed in a distant second by outgoing Alderwoman At-Large Kesha Gibson Carter.
But in a state under scrutiny for election integrity, the apparent lack of procedure to validate candidate qualifications in Savannah, as well as the unusually high number of candidates who registered with cash to stand in municipal elections, has raised eyebrows by political and other community leaders.
Massey did not respond to multiple requests to explain the process he followed to confirm the qualifications of candidates on the municipal ballot, or whether he checked state or county voter databases for Davis’ status. Savannah City Attorney Bates Lovett did not respond to questions.
State law says that clerks “shall determine if the candidate is qualified to seek and hold the public office for which such candidate is offering.” To be considered qualified, a person must be a “bona fide citizen of the county in which that person shall be elected or appointed at least 12 months prior to that person’s election or appointment,” and “a qualified voter entitled to vote,” according to Georgia state law.
Sabrina German, the director of county registrars’ office, said her office had no record that Massey or Massey’s office had ever reached out to them to verify Davis’ voter registration.
It also appears that Davis did not vote on Election Day. Her voter file shows no record of her doing so, the registrars’ office said. The Board of Elections said it received no notice of a Tyrisha Davis trying to vote with a missing address, and no provisional ballots were cast for Davis.
Davis has not responded to multiple requests for an interview.
How clerks qualify candidates
City clerks are supposed to verify a potential candidate’s address using a driver’s license and their voter status by using the Secretary of State’s website, according to Regina Russell, the president of the Georgia Municipal Clerks Association and the clerk of Acworth, in northwest Georgia.
This is supposed to happen before the clerk accepts the qualifying fee from candidates, she said.
Only then do clerks “go into the actual election process in terms of preparing ballots, getting ready for absentee and advanced voting, of course, voting day and so forth,” Russell said.
If unsure of a potential candidate’s residency, Russell said she takes the step of contacting “our customer service division that has their information in the system in terms of the utility billing.” If unsure of voter status, Russell said she would typically call the county officials who would have records to verify.
The Savannah clerk could have checked state voter rolls himself to verify Davis’ status as a registered voter. It is unclear whether he did so. At the county level, however, German checked her email and with her staff to see if Massey contacted them. She said they had no records or recollection that he did.
“(Clerks) have to call us to get the verification. I mean, if they want to verify they’ll call or sometimes they’ll email us,” German said.
The Current, in the runup to the Nov. 7 election, checked Davis’ voting status and found that she had not been assigned a precinct, likely due to the fact that she supplied a P.O. Box, rather than a valid resident’s address, on her voter registration form. State voting law demands a valid residential address to register.
Timeline of Davis’ registration
County records show that Davis first attempted to register to vote in January 2023 as part of her driver’s license application. Her registration was canceled on May 30, possibly due to the fact she registered her address to a P.O. Box, according to the Board of Registrars.
She remained unregistered until Aug. 25, when she amended her application with new information.
On Aug. 25, she input another address on her voter registration request: 1305 Barnard Street, #2027, according to the registrars’ office. That address is the Mailbox Cafe, which is a post office and where she lists her P.O. Box.
According to German, even when the registrars’ office receives information that is missing or incorrect, they still have to put the information in their voter files. But the registration is not considered active until all issues are addressed.
The Mailbox Cafe on Barnard Street is also where Davis listed her campaign address. Ahead of the election, she refused to disclose to The Current where she actually lived, citing potential safety fears.
By Election Day, Davis’ registration showed as “active” but had a missing address on it. Her registration was listed at “1305 MISSING ADDRESS APT 2027, GEORGIA.” The registrars’ office did not have an answer as to why it showed as “active” on election day.