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Hancock Co. government attempts to retrieve court and voting records after fire

The historic Hancock Co. Courthouse went down in flames during the early morning hours on Monday, August 11
Photo Courtesy of NBC-26 in Augusta

On Tuesday, August 12, Hancock County -- approximately sixty miles northeast of Macon-- is still recovering from the loss of its historic Courthouse due to an overnight fire which happened early Monday morning on August 11.

The Courthouse is located in Sparta, a rural community of approximately 1,600. Overall, Hancock County has a total population of 8,879, according to 2013 Census estimates.

The Courthouse fire claimed just about everything which included property deeds, birth and marriage certificates and many other vital records.

There are now emerging questions about what kind of impact will the loss of records have on the election in November.

Hancock will have to rely heavily on the Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and his office during an election year to help rebuild what was lost in less than three months.

Hancock is a majority-black rural county that votes overwhelmingly Democratic.

So the prospect of a close governor's race between Democrat Jason Carter and Republican Governor Nathan Deal and the U.S. Senate race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn may come down to a matter of hundreds or thousands of votes.

In 2012, President Barack Obama won Hancock with eighty percent of the vote and had received 3,308 votes. In 2012, former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes had won seventy-eight percent of the vote and had received 2,358 votes.

During the last presidential cycle, close to 5,600 people in Hancock were registered and 4,000 had cast a ballot

Every vote counts even in a relatively small rural county such as Hancock.

Local Hancock officials have to put together a plan to get ready for the November election. The commission is trying to schedule meetings to discuss how they will continue county business.

County Commissioner Teresa Kell says a major concern right now is getting to the vaults inside that houses all of the county documents. A board of elections member told WMAZ-TV that none of their documents or voting machines were in those vaults and are likely destroyed.

On a side note, the chairman of the Hancock County Commission --Ms. Sistie Hudson-- explained local television in Augusta about the history of the Courthouse and one particular court case.

Hudson said it was back in the early 1800's when a rich plantation owner gave the county money for the courthouse. "Money was loaned to the county by David Dickson who was a big planter here, a very wealthy planter, and he loaned them $20,000 to build this beautiful building, and the county never paid him back," she said.

It wasn't until Dickson passed away, that his daughter, a child of one of his slaves, got paid back the debt with her inheritance. However, she didn't get that money without a fight from Dickson's brothers in a famous courtroom case.

"It was tried right up here in the courthouse that she owned the bonds on, and her inheritance was upheld in the superior court here. It was upheld in the state's court of appeals and upheld by the Supreme Court of Georgia, and she was the richest black woman in the United States, at that time, that it was upheld," said Hancock County Development Authority Director Allen Haywood.

The fire investigation is still pending and it is estimated to take approximately five million dollars to completely rebuild the Courthouse. Courthouse activities are likely to be moved temporarily to Oconee Fall Line Technical College's satellite location in Sparta.

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