Secretary of State's office looking into alleged vote-buying in Milton

MILTON, Ga. — The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office is investigating allegations of vote-buying during last November’s Milton city election, but all three candidates implicated deny any wrongdoing.

The complaint, filed by Bill Lusk, who lost his seat to newcomer Laura Bentley, points to a Facebook post on a page called “We Call Milton Home,” that offered voters a chance to be entered into a drawing for pizza gift certificates if they took a picture with an “I voted sticker” in front of campaign signs for Bentley, candidate Peyton Jamison, and incumbent Mayor Joe Lockwood.

“It was essentially an effort to buy votes,” Lusk told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik. “It may not rise to the level of national security, but it’s a violation of our legal system and I think voters need to know what’s going on.”

Lusk showed Petchenik a January 29th letter from a Secretary of State investigator in which he signaled an official investigation would be launched into the allegation.

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Petchenik received a statement from a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, Candice Broce:

“Because it is an ongoing investigation, I cannot discuss any further details at this time. Generally speaking, once our office completes an investigation, our investigators present their findings to the State Election Board, which makes the ultimate determination on whether Georgia election laws or rules have been violated. The board can decide to dismiss the case; issue a letter of instruction, which explains what law or rule was violated and orders the respondent from committing additional violations; or bind the case over to the Attorney General’s office. The case can also be referred to the local district attorney’s office for prosecution. I cannot provide a timeline on how long it might take to complete the investigation.

"The code section on point is O.C.G.A. 21-2-570: “Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony.

"On background, our investigators look into every complaint that we receive, which can be hundreds of complaints for each election cycle. That being said, these kinds of investigations are fairly commonplace, and the State Election Board will take every fact into account as they analyze the case.”

Petchenik reached out to all three candidates, who won their respective seats.

Jamison, who ran unopposed, told Petchenik:

“Representatives from the Secretary of State’s Office did reach out to me regarding an investigation they apparently are conducting into a Facebook page, ‘We Call Milton Home.’ I confirmed with them that I am not connected to the administration or ownership of that site and that I neither asked for nor condoned the alleged behavior of the site’s owner/administrator. I ran unopposed in the election in question.”

Bentley sent Petchenik this statement:

“The Secretary of State has received my full cooperation with the investigation of the ‘We Call Milton Home’ Facebook page. I am not the operator nor do I direct content for this site. Mr. Lusk was my opponent for the District 2, Post 1 City Council election last November.”

Mayor Joe Lockwood also sent Petchenik a statement:

"I am not, or ever was, affiliated with the ‘We call Milton Home’ Facebook page, nor do I have any involvement with the posts offered by the account owner and/or administrator of this account. I take these allegations very seriously and have made it clear that I would never condone such an activity, as well as never be a part of it. I am confident neither of the other candidates mentioned would either.

"As to the Secretary of State investigation, I have fully cooperated and responded that I have absolutely no involvement in anything with this issue.

"It is my opinion that this was an honest mistake by an individual, or individuals, on Facebook that meant no harm, nor any ill will, in any way, and from what I understand actually gave nothing away."

In a message to Petchenik, the page’s administrator told him: “Yes, I can confirm that they did not direct me to do any of that.”

Petchenik pressed that person to give him their name, but they declined.

“The people behind Bill Lusk’s camp are behind the complaint on this and they continue to be on a witch hunt,” they said to Petchenik.

Lusk told Petchenik he’s hopeful there will be some kind of resolution to the issue.