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Sheriff investigating candidate posting ballot photo on Facebook

Posted: July 21, 2012 - 11:06pm
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Photo By Valerie Rowell The photo that Columbia County Commission candidate Lee Benedict posted to his Facebook page last week of the electronic screen of the voting machine is a violation of policy banning cell phone use and photographic devices inside the voting booth.    Photo By Valerie Rowell The photo that Columbia County Commission candidate Lee Benedict posted to his Facebook page last week of the electronic screen of the voting machine is a violation of policy banning cell phone use and photographic devices inside the voting booth.
Photo By Valerie Rowell The photo that Columbia County Commission candidate Lee Benedict posted to his Facebook page last week of the electronic screen of the voting machine is a violation of policy banning cell phone use and photographic devices inside the voting booth.
Photo By Valerie Rowell The photo that Columbia County Commission candidate Lee Benedict posted to his Facebook page last week of the electronic screen of the voting machine is a violation of policy banning cell phone use and photographic devices inside the voting booth.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is investigating whether Columbia 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 to discuss Benedict’s photo posting. Batchelor recommended referring that and another incident to the sheriff’s office. “There doesn’t seem to me to be any criminal intent,” Batchelor said.

Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said Friday that their investigation has been completed. The results have been forwarded to District Attorney Ashley Wright, who will decide whether prosecution is warranted.

Benedict did not immediately respond to a phone message.

Benedict is running against District 2 incumbent Trey Allen on the Republican ballot. He previously made unsuccessful bids for state House, state Senate and the Columbia County School Board.

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

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

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

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

“It is required for us, at all the voting precincts, to have it posted,” Gay said. “It is bright in color for a purpose.”

The law specifically allows media access to voting precincts at the discretion of poll managers, but prohibits any photos of voting screens.

Long said he called Gay, then fellow board member Neal Johnson, who called Benedict and explained the violation. Johnson said Benedict denied knowing about the ban on cell phones and cameras.

“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).”

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

Gay said she was informed of a similar incident on Monday. Someone brought in printed copies from the Facebook page of an intern for Rick Allen’s 12th Georgia Congressional District campaign. The printouts showed that the staffer also 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.

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