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Voters in John Lewis' district express frustration in 'rushed' process to name his successor

Some District 5 residents have started a petition to demand a fair election.

ATLANTA — Many of the people Congressman Lewis served for decades are in mourning, but some are also upset over the process of filling his seat on Capitol Hill.

Three days after his death, Georgia Democrats selected state Sen. Nikema Williams as the Democratic nominee for the November election. 

11Alive was at the John Lewis hero mural in the Sweet Auburn Neighborhood, which Lewis represented in Congress for more than three decades, as community members expressed their concerns. 

"At no point have we had, as members of the public and voters in the district, an opportunity to weigh in," expressed Maya Dillard-Smith, the former executive director for the Georgia ACLU, in frustration.

RELATED: Dems tap Sen. Nikema Williams to fill seat vacated by death of John Lewis on November ballot

Dillard-Smith, and other community members from District 5, said they are unhappy with how Democratic leaders chose the candidate to replace the late John Lewis on the ballot this November. They believe Georgia Democrats railroaded the process - in what they called a rushed decision - which they said lacked transparency. They are calling for a special election in January to be able to weigh in and pick who replaces him.

During the process, Georgia Democrats cited a state law that they said required them to pick a candidate for the now-vacant seat by this past Monday. On that day, the state Democratic party's executive committee was nearly unanimous in voting to select the party's chair - Williams - to replace Lewis on the ballot. 

RELATED: Who is Nikema Williams? The instant front-runner to win the seat John Lewis held for nearly 34 years

But Republicans, including the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said Democrats completely misinterpreted the law – resulting in the quick selection.

In a statement from the Secretary of State, the office said it "told [Democrats] that we interpreted the law to require them to let us know by 4:30 on Monday that they intended to fill the vacancy, not to tell us the name of the nominee by then."

RELATED: Republicans: Law didn't require quick replacement of Rep. John Lewis

Democrats, meanwhile, said they had to interpret a vaguely-written law in a way that closed the door on any potential Republican interference in naming Lewis' successor. There has long been mistrust between the Republican-led Secretary of State's office and Georgia Democrats - dating back years. 

But Dillard-Smith said that reason is not good enough. 

"If what the Democratic party is hiding behind is a perceived loophole, they are no better than the Republicans in their own voter suppression tactics, as far as we are concerned," she said.

As for District 5 residents, some have started a petition to demand a fair election.

RELATED: 

Life of John Lewis to be celebrated over 6 days of ceremonies

Remembering John Lewis, an 11Alive Special

Brenda Wood's Last Word on Congressman John Lewis: 'We didn’t deserve him. But Lord, did we need him!'

John Lewis took his 'Good Trouble' to Washington during 33 years in Congress

President Obama says John Lewis left us his 'marching orders'

Efforts growing to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge for John Lewis