Sheriff will investigate Columbia County Commission candidate posting photo of ballot

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 2:07 PM
Last updated 10:31 PM
  • Follow Elections

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.

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The Columbia County Sheriff's Office is being asked to investigate whether the photo that commission candidate Lee Benedict posted to his Facebook page July 11 of the electronic screen of the voting machine violated an election law.  VALERIE ROWELL/STAFF
VALERIE ROWELL/STAFF
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office is being asked to investigate whether the photo that commission candidate Lee Benedict posted to his Facebook page July 11 of the electronic screen of the voting machine violated an election law.

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.

Comments (24) Add comment
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blues550
380
Points
blues550 07/17/12 - 01:22 pm
1
0
Good Grief
Unpublished

We are seriosly wasting tax dollars on this? I guess it beats 6 people getting shot.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/17/12 - 01:24 pm
8
2
I don't see a good reason to

I don't see a good reason to make it illegal to document how you voted. For a candidate, it's even more important to show constituents how you vote on issues they are directly affected by. I'd say the good out-weighs the bad. But I'm sure if there is a scenario where taking a photo of your ballot causes mass-panic, the good commenters online today will bring it to my attention.

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/17/12 - 01:35 pm
5
3
I'm an attorney and cannot

I'm an attorney and cannot figure out the public policy or reason behind this law. Anyone know? This is a First Amendment right we are talking about, so it has to be a pretty important public policy to take away his right to post it, although I admit that is different from simply not allowing pictures to be taken inside the voting booth. Is there some type of security concern for not taking pictures?

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/17/12 - 01:36 pm
2
2
Good point David!

Good point David!

Jake
34040
Points
Jake 07/17/12 - 01:42 pm
5
1
It's only a law, who cares?

I guess the old adage that "Laws are meant to be broken" would apply here? Any other laws we want to disregard because we "didn't know"?

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/17/12 - 01:59 pm
3
3
yeah Jake I get it. If it

yeah Jake I get it. If it was embezzlement or murder, I'd understand why we needs laws against it. But documenting your own intellectual property should be protected under the U.S. Constitution. Or at least it was for the first 200 years or so.

Riverman1
93519
Points
Riverman1 07/17/12 - 02:01 pm
4
1
Going to kick out Allen and

Going to kick out Allen and Benedict out of their races? I don't think so.

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 07/17/12 - 02:25 pm
5
3
The reason they don't print

The reason they don't print reciepts up when you vote (showing HOW you voted) is to keep people from SELLING their votes. Same for photographs of the same...also...it protects the privacy of others while they vote.

No one is going to get thrown off the ballot, that is silly. However, I do love the fact that the Allen staffer's "boo-boo" was buried. Had it been Wright McLeod's people, it would have made the headline.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/17/12 - 02:43 pm
2
0
Good explanation AR. I can

Good explanation AR. I can see how the voting system could be manipulated with bought votes. Then again, asking for a vote based on your platform is the same principle. It eventually translates to money or at least could. So for our purposes, let's say I run for office and promise to clean the streets of litter. I go to storeowner number one and say "hey, with cleaner streets, I'd be more inclined to bring my family down here and patronize your store and so would all my friends and neighbors." Is this not the same concept as say, buying a vote? Whether it be cash or a gesture, it's a transaction to secure a vote by offering an equivalent good/service.

Little Lamb
48970
Points
Little Lamb 07/17/12 - 02:59 pm
4
1
Photo

The way the story is written, it is not against the law to post the photo, print the photo, pass the photo around the office, put the photo on the 6:00 news, or put the photo in The Augusta Chronicle. It is only against the law to take the photo. It is up to poll workers to try to enforce the law — Hah, good luck with that. Once he exits the polling place, he is scott free and there's no law enforcement agency that's going to waste time and money seeking an arrest.

One thing I wish the Chronicle would do is cite the law and tell us the penalties for breaking this law.

Little Lamb
48970
Points
Little Lamb 07/17/12 - 03:03 pm
2
2
@ Local Lawyer 2:35

I am guessing that some do-gooder General Assemblyman a long time ago got this law passed to prevent people from photographing how other people voted; perhaps as intimidation, perhaps for embarassment. I can't see any harm in documenting how you, yourself voted.

But then, unintended consequences is the name of the game when it comes to lawmaking.

735
Points
Barry Paschal 07/17/12 - 03:09 pm
6
0
O.C.G.A. § 21-2-413 (2012) (e)

Little Lamb: Here's the section of the law cited by the board of elections. According to another section of the law cited by the county attorney, violations are a misdemeanor.

(e) No person shall use photographic or other electronic monitoring or recording devices, cameras, or cellular telephones while such person is in a polling place while voting is taking place; provided, however, that a poll manager, in his or her discretion, may allow the use of photographic devices in the polling place under such conditions and limitations as the election superintendent finds appropriate, and provided, further, that no photography shall be allowed of a ballot or the face of a voting machine or DRE unit while an elector is voting such ballot or machine or DRE unit and no photography shall be allowed of an electors list, electronic electors list, or the use of an electors list or electronic electors list. This subsection shall not prohibit the use of photographic or other electronic monitoring or recording devices, cameras, or cellular telephones by poll officials for official purposes.

Little Lamb
48970
Points
Little Lamb 07/17/12 - 03:28 pm
4
1
Thanks

Thank you, Barry.

By the way, I have been in polling places several times when the poll manager had to remind a person to hang up the phone.

resident
501
Points
resident 07/17/12 - 03:33 pm
6
1
Law is Broken regardless

What I see here are interesting and good comments. Here is my take if the person seeking office does not know the law then how could they represent you!!! That being said here is my two cents; they obviously know the law and willingly broke it. What does that say for Trust????? to me is speaks very loud and clear that they do not care and more than likely do not care about my opinion or representing me as a homeowner or taxpayer/citizen.

Little Lamb
48970
Points
Little Lamb 07/17/12 - 03:43 pm
2
5
@ resident

Our congress and our legislature have written so many laws that it is impossible to know them all. You have no evidence that Lee Benedict knew about this law. What if you had your cell phone turned on while in a polling place, perhaps standing in line, and it rang. Before today, did you know you would be committing a misdemeanor by answering said phone?

Why, the way that law is written, it's against the law to use your cell phone to play Angry Birds while standing in line in the polling place.

jbartley
619
Points
jbartley 07/17/12 - 03:48 pm
5
2
Just Politics

If the person didn’t plan on hurting Lee, they could have sent him a message on Facebook informing him of the law and ask him to take down. But they did not, so it is just politics as usual.

Riverman1
93519
Points
Riverman1 07/17/12 - 03:54 pm
7
0
Reading the law Barry posted

Reading the law Barry posted it seems like the intent is to keep OTHERS from taking a photo of someone elses ballot. Like I said they will kick Rick Allen and Lee Benedict off the ballot when Lake Thurmond freezes over. Tell them to get Ben Harbin's lawyer.

LocalLawyer
317
Points
LocalLawyer 07/17/12 - 05:08 pm
3
0
Ahhh, thanks Austin! Makes

Ahhh, thanks Austin! Makes sense now.

Riverman1
93519
Points
Riverman1 07/17/12 - 05:31 pm
5
1
Why wasn't Jimmy Vowell

Why wasn't Jimmy Vowell arrested again?

Riverman1
93519
Points
Riverman1 07/17/12 - 05:46 pm
4
3
We Need a Bumper Sticker

We need a bumper sticker in support of Benedict. This whole thing is silly.

"Let Lee Loose"

fedex227
11187
Points
fedex227 07/17/12 - 08:10 pm
5
1
What's wrong with selling your vote anyway?
Unpublished

I could use the extra money to pay for the increase to my AC online subscription.

Billyds999
17
Points
Billyds999 07/18/12 - 04:45 am
3
1
Politics as usual

Witch hunt....

Riverman1
93519
Points
Riverman1 07/18/12 - 07:36 am
2
0
Imagine Lee Benedict in Jail.

If Lee Benedict goes to jail over this, I can see him trying to be strong around the other prisoners.

"Whatcha in for?"

"Violation of state law."

"You must be bad, man."

blues550
380
Points
blues550 07/18/12 - 07:57 am
0
0
Gang Related
Unpublished

Clay should immediately launch a task force to decide whether or not this was gang related with similar photos being taken by people wearing the same clothing. Oops. Sorry. Wrong county.

Right on
213
Points
Right on 07/18/12 - 09:39 am
3
1
The law is written for

The law is written for privacy. I would not want someone photgraphing my ballot. Bottom line, he had a camera/phone in the pollling place. He may have taken pictures of his ballot. He may have taken pictures of others.

woodymeister
389
Points
woodymeister 07/18/12 - 11:50 am
0
3
Bumper Sticker?

How about "Let Lee Lose" instead.

Riverman1
93519
Points
Riverman1 07/18/12 - 12:21 pm
2
1
Woody, I recognized how close

Woody, I recognized how close that was before I posted it. Ha.

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