• GBI investigating local deputy after Channel 2 started asking questions

    By: Mike Petchenik

    Updated:

    FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. - The Forsyth County sheriff has put one of his own deputies on administrative leave and is asking the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get involved after Channel 2 Action News uncovered questions about that deputy’s voter registration.

    Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik received a tip that Sgt. James Cutcliff had illegally registered his voting address as the sheriff’s office.  

    Petchenik obtained documents confirming the voter registration address and then reached out to the county board of elections.

    In an email, Deputy Director Mandi Smith told Petchenik: “Thank you again for reaching out to us with this information. The Board of Registrars and Elections has a duty to examine the qualifications of each voter in Forsyth County and the City of Cumming and will conduct a hearing into this matter at their public meeting on May 7, 2019.”

    Petchenik reached out to Cutcliff, but didn’t hear back, and researched him on several public records databases, finding no evidence he owns property in Forsyth County.  


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    A search of a database called “Nexis” showed Cutcliff as having a P.O. box mailing address in Cumming, but no physical address.  

    Another database showed him as having a possible address in Gainesville.

    Election attorney Bryan Tyson said the law requires voters to register at the address where they physically reside.

    “When a person votes at a place that is not their resident address, they’re providing false information, which is a violation and a felony under the Georgia election code,” Tyson said.

    Tyson told Petchenik the board of elections inquiry will allow Cutcliff to provide evidence of his residence, but he said that a place of business, especially the sheriff’s office, would likely not be considered a place of residence.

    Records Petchenik obtained show Cutcliff voted in several elections, including a November 2017 City of Cumming election during which there was a tie for a city council seat.

    “If someone did not reside in a particular district and had not updated their registration at the time limits provided by the statute, that could be considered an illegal vote cast for purposes of overturning an election,” Tyson said.

    After Petchenik reached out to the sheriff’s office about the incident, a spokesman told him they would open an investigation.  

    On Wednesday morning, Petchenik received this updated statement from the office: “Our Office of Professional Standards has begun a review of the allegation provided by WSB-TV. The Office of Professional Standards has engaged the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office as the alleged conduct involves voting activities by the Secretary of State’s Office and which is unrelated to the employee’s responsibilities as a law enforcement officer. After review with the Forsyth County District Attorney, the Sheriff’s Office has requested the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conduct an independent inquiry into this matter. The involved employee has been placed on administrative leave during the inquiry.”

    Tyson said voter fraud is less common than it used to be.

    “Part of that is because we ensure our voter registration list is accurate. We use a (Department of Driver Services) record, we have match processes that check other government databases,” he said.  “There are a lot of people who have to constantly make sure we keep our voter registration rolls accurate and updated.”

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