The first sign something was wrong with the petition to recall Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson was when officials noticed several pages of petition signatures in alphabetical order.
Then they noticed signatures written in bubble letters unlike the cursive handwriting on registration cards.
Hamilton County Election Commission officials said they tossed out hundreds of what appeared to be falsified signatures on petitions filed in a three-month effort to unseat the freshman councilman. District 7 residents fell a little more than 400 signatures short of the 1,600 needed to force a public referendum.
But Alton Park Neighborhood Association President Gil Shropshire said he is challenging the allegation that signatures were falsified and believes the election commission is at fault.
"We are willing to bring the people to sign those petitions and let the election board tell them they didn't sign," Shropshire said.
On Wednesday, Shropshire delivered a letter to the commission accusing it of giving Anderson's opponents an outdated list of District 7 voters with incorrect names and the wrong number of residents. This meant that opponents had to collect more signatures than should have been required.
"The citizens are deeply troubled with this outdated and inflated number of registered voters," the letter stated. "We the people of District 7 have been disenfranchised in this political process because of the gross negligence of this election commission."
Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said the Election Commission used the correct calculation to determine that 1,600 signatures -- or 15 percent of the registered voters -- were needed to get a recall question on the ballot.
Steelman said residents are confused about the City Charter. About 10,500 of the 24,000 registered voters in District 7 are active voters. But inactive voters still can vote and sign petitions, so they count when the number of required signatures is calculated.
However, Steelman said only one person from a list of a dozen submitted to the election commission was eligible to be purged.
Anderson said he's not surprised that the recall organizers would turn in fake signatures.
"It's concerning but not at all surprising," he said. "They spent three months lying to voters about me. They clearly don't have a problem with lying."
Stuart James, Anderson's attorney, said he will try to get the petitions and determine whether there are violations of campaign ethics laws.
"It's a serious issue for us and deserves our attention," James said Wednesday. "It's just wrong."
James said the lawsuit he filed on behalf of Anderson to block the petition won't go froward unless issues are uncovered about the petition signatures.
Anderson always claimed the motive to recall him was because he is gay, and that current state law is flawed because it allows such discrimination.
Petition leaders insisted that they knew they were electing a gay councilman but argued Anderson hasn't followed through on his campaign promises.
Others admitted they disagreed with Anderson's bill to extend benefits to the gay and straight domestic partners of city employees. That question will be put before city voters on the November election ballot.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...