Election officials probing vote fraud in 4 counties
By JIM WALLS
A dozen people, including a former sheriff, mishandled scores of absentee ballots cast in elections in four Georgia counties in 2008, state elections officials were told this week.
Investigators said they found evidence that the targets of the probe requested ballots without voters’ knowledge, helped mark voters’ ballots or simply marked the absentees themselves, assisted voters who did not need assistance and covered their tracks by failing to sign paperwork to acknowledge their involvement.
In Twiggs County, former Sheriff Doyle Stone and his son, Greg Stone, are suspected of illegally handling absentee ballots in the son’s 2008 primary campaign for sheriff. FBI analysis found both men’s fingerprints on envelopes containing absentee ballots that were delivered to the local election office, investigators told the State Elections Board on Tuesday.
At least five voters said they gave the elder Stone their ballots, rather than mailing them in, after he assisted them in voting. Two women told investigators the former sheriff came to their house and helped them fill out their ballots.
“Both felt they had been coerced into voting for Greg Stone when he was not their choice,” said Chris Harvey, the secretary of state’s inspector general.
Sheriff Darren Mitchum won re-election in that 2008 primary by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Mitchum first won election in 2004 when the elder Stone retired after serving for 16 years.
The Elections Board tabled the Twiggs County case Tuesday to give the Stones’ attorney more time to prepare. But the board referred three other cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible prosecution:
In Muscogee County, investigators found that deputy registrar Vickie Stafford had election officials deliver 23 blank absentee ballots to her home without the voters’ knowledge. She was later seen helping them fill out the ballots at a nursing home where her mother lived.
“A follow-up investigation discovered that several voters were assisted although they were not physically disabled or illiterate. In addition, three (3) ballots were determined to have signatures that did not match the comparable signatures. Other electors interviewed stated they did not vote, could not remember voting, were told who to vote for, or were asked to sign the envelope after it was sealed. The ballots for the November General Election were also reviewed and it was determined that the electors with questionable ballots in the runoff election also had questionable ballots in the general election.”
The daughter of one voter took her mother’s ballot to local prosecutors, who investigated but declined to pursue the case, saying the voters’ memories were unreliable.
“They couldn’t remember what they had for breakfast that day, much less what happened three days earlier,” said Chris Samra, an investigator for the Muscogee District Attorney’s office.
In Toombs County, while looking into an unrelated complaint, investigators found evidence that four women illegally possessed a total of 106 absentee ballots.
All four admitted taking possession of absentee ballots after they had been voted, investigators said, after a witness reported seeing a bunch of ballots in one of their cars. Investigators said they found improprieties in connection with 16 of those ballots; they stopped checking the ballots after that.
A candidate who bought a tank of gas for one of the women denied knowledge of any improprieties, but board member Randy Evans was unmoved.
“I’m not overly persuaded by anyone saying, ‘Oh no, I was never involved in vote-buying,’ ” Evans said.
In Coffee County, investigators said, four women allegedly conspired to help voters fill out absentees.
One voter said respondent Louise Baker “harassed her pretty hard” to vote for a particular candidate, while another said Baker filled out his ballot without asking him which candidates he supported and then had him sign the back of the ballot.