Sheriff will investigate Columbia County Commission candidate posting photo of ballot

The Columbia County Sher­iff’s Office is being asked to investigate whether county commission candidate Lee Benedict violated election law by posting a photo of his ballot on Facebook.

Two members of the county Board of Elections met with county attorney Doug Batchelor on Tuesday. Batchelor recommended referring the incident and a similar one involving another voter to the sheriff’s office.

“There doesn’t seem to me to be any criminal intent,” Batchelor said.

Benedict is running against District 2 incumbent Trey Allen on the Republican ballot. He has made three unsuccessful bids for state House, state Senate and the county school board.

Board of Elections Chair­man Larry Long said someone notified him about the photo Friday. Benedict reportedly posted a photo of the electronic screen of the voting machine showing a vote for himself.

Georgia law prohibits the use of cameras or phones within the enclosed voting space at a polling location.

Benedict voted July 11 at the Board of Elections office in Evans, and the photo was posted on his Facebook page later that day.

A large orange sign explaining that cellphones and cameras are banned from voting booths hangs in the office and at every polling location, said Nancy Gay, the Board of Elections registration coordinator. Another symbol on the door shows that cellphone use is prohibited inside the office.

“I don’t know how many people know you’re not allowed to do that,” Gay said. “It is required for us, at all the voting precincts, to have it posted. It is bright in color for a purpose.”

Long said he called Gay, then board member Neal Johnson. Johnson called Bene­dict and explained the violation. Johnson said Benedict denied knowing about the ban.

“I told him the best thing he could do in his behalf was to remove it immediately,” Johnson said at the meeting.

“If he chose, he should issue some sort of apology that he was unaware that it wasn’t supposed to be done and that sort of thing. … I guess he got a change of mind. He never did issue the apology, but he did remove (the photo).”

Voting machines at the Board of Elections office are set up in a conference room, apart from the office area and staff. At other voting locations, several poll staffers are right behind the voters.

Gay said she was informed of a similar incident Monday.

Someone took in printed copies from the Facebook page of a staffer on Rick Allen’s 12th Congressional District campaign.

The printouts showed that the staffer posted a photo of his ballot.

That photo had already been removed Monday when Long tried to confirm it.

“I believe the young individual caught wind that it was a no-no before it even got to our ears,” Gay said.

Batchelor said sheriff’s investigators will turn their findings over to District At­tor­ney Ashley Wright, who will decide whether to prosecute.

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