News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, July 17, 2012
EVANS, Ga. -- There could be possible criminal charges for a Columbia County candidate because of what he calls an honest mistake.
The Sheriff's Office is now investigating allegations that two voters took pictures inside the voting booth, which is illegal.
It's posted as soon as you walk into the board of elections, "no cameras and no phones," but at least two voters didn't see the harm in a quick point and click.
The Columbia County Board of Elections met Tuesday morning to discuss the next step after two voters were caught breaking the rules and maybe even breaking the law.
"Two voters who have utilized photographic devices to photograph their voting ballot," explained Columbia County Board of Elections Chairman Larry Long.
Advanced voting began last week and already the office has received two complaints.
"In these incidents, a voter, while voting on a touch screen unit, took a picture of the voter ballot and then posted it to a Facebook page," Long said.
One of those voters is Lee Benedict, a Republican candidate running against Trey Allen for Commission District 2.
"I voted for myself and I took a picture of the 'X,' just my race and my race only," Benedict told News 12.
When board members contacted Benedict on Friday, he removed it the picture.
"I apologize and said I didn't know and I certainly didn't mean any harm or there was no intent to gain an unfair advantage," he said. "I take full responsibility for it."
And apparently other precincts are having the same problem.
"It is my belief that most voters do not know that this is not allowed. We're hearing of other incidents throughout the state," Long said.
"Had I known it was in violation of the code, I never would have done it," Benedict said.
Now the board is handing the investigation over to the Sheriff's Office. The violation could become a misdemeanor charge.
"I was a little shocked. I trust Clay Whittle and Ashley Wright to see it for what it is," Benedict said. "You'd think you could take a picture with the ballot with your name on it but, you know, I didn't think Keith Richards would live longer than Whitney Houston or Davy Jones or Michael Jackson either, so we learn something every day."
The second incident involves a 19-year-old campaign staffer for congressional candidate Rick Allen. Thomas Gardner snapped a photo of his vote for Allen and posted it online but removed it before the board could contact him. His case has also been handed over to the Sheriff's Office.
Gardner released this statement to News 12 today:
"As a 19-year-old kid who loves politics, I was very excited to cast my first vote in a congressional race. I had no idea that it was against the rules to take a picture of my ballot to show my friends and family, but I do now and will make sure I never do it again."