The State Board of Elections heard two cases of alleged fraud involving candidates for the 2017 Temple municipal election, dismissing one but referring the other to the state Attorney General’s office.
In all, the state board — which is charged among other duties with determining election fraud — made criminal referrals involving 24 cases from across the state during its Feb. 17 hearing. Along with the Temple cases heard, there was also one involving a former LaGrange municipal candidate and the entire Douglas County Board of Elections for a matter involving the 2020 general election.
The two Temple cases involved men who allegedly failed to disclose that they had criminal records when they filed for the November 2017 municipal election. While the board referred one of those cases to the state’s Attorney General, the board dismissed the accusation against the second former candidate.
Avanti Helton, who had registered to seek the Ward 1 council seat in 2017, will now have his case examined by the state’s attorney general. He is accused of making a false statement when he signed a required affidavit to seek the post, allegedly failing to disclose he had pleaded guilty to a felony case in 2005.
While persons who have been convicted of crimes may vote after all terms of their sentences are complete, the state forbids anyone “convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude” from holding elected office “unless that person’s civil rights have been restored and at least 10 years have elapsed from the date of the completion of the sentence.”
The only agency that can restore civil rights — which includes the right to run for public office — is the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
During the campaign, Helton’s candidacy was challenged, and the case was scheduled to be heard by the Carroll County Board of Elections. He withdrew from the race one day before that hearing.
In a 2017 interview, Helton admitted to the felony charge, but said that the matter was “over and done with.” He also pointed to the prosperous life he made for himself in the years since the conviction.
Reached Monday for comment, Helton expressed anger that the matter was coming up again and his belief that the matter would ultimately be dismissed by the AG’s office.
During the Feb. 17 hearing, neither Helton nor a representative appeared on his behalf. That was not the case for Gerald Powell, the second Temple candidate from the 2017 race.
Like Helton, Powell was also accused of failing to disclose a prior felony conviction when he ran for the office of mayor. Speaking to the state board, Powell noted that paperwork attesting to the restoration of his right to hold public office had been lost, although he had a letter he said proves his claim.
Powell told the board members, which included Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, that following the 1992 incident for which he was convicted, he went through the “boot camp” program during the administration of former Gov. Zell Miller which was intended to deter first-time offenders from repeat offenses.
Powell told the panel that at the end of the program, he filled out paperwork to seek restoration of his civil rights, but the state’s copies of those papers have since been lost and state officials have been unable to find them. However, he said he has a letter dated 1994 from the state attesting that he did apply. He also told the board that he has voted, served on grand juries, and participated in his community.
Raffensperger said that Powell had been “an exemplary citizen” and had been a “productive, taxpaying Georgian and that’s what we want for every person who ever serves time.” He suggested that the case be sent back to the board’s investigators for further review.
Board member David Worley, an Atlanta attorney, recommended that the case against Powell be dismissed entirely on the condition that he send a copy of the 1994 state letter to the panel. The motion passed unanimously.
Regarding the Helton matter, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office declined comment on the specific case, but cited state law that empowers the office to bring the state board’s complaint before a county Superior Court. Then it would be determined what action, if any, should be followed.
No timetable for such proceedings is specified under state law.
A spokesperson for the Election Board would not comment on why these two matters that took place three years ago should have taken that long to come before the panel. However, he said delays are not unusual, due to the schedules of the board officers, time for investigation, and the delay of hearing cases caused by the pandemic. He noted that there was at least one case dating to 2016 that had been on the board’s Feb. 17 agenda.
There were several other cases on the agenda that involved a candidate allegedly making false statements during other municipal elections, including one case from LaGrange.
Other statewide cases referred to the Attorney General involved such matters as campaigning within 150 feet of a polling place, procedural violations while conducting a voter registration drive, and one case of a person “allegedly trying to buy votes by offering a free meal” to any voter in the 2019 Ringgold mayoral race.
The board found probable cause that Douglas County election officials violated state law for allegedly failing to upload a memory card containing 293 votes in the 2020 general election. Both Douglas County Election Supervisor Milton Kidd and the Douglas County Board of Elections and Registration were cited by the board.
Walter Jones, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the attorney general’s office will decide whether to pursue the case with an administrative law judge. He said the charges are civil in nature and that if a judge finds Kidd and the county BOER guilty, a fine would most likely be the penalty. Jones said the fine would most likely be paid for by the county’s taxpayers.
Kidd did not respond to a message seeking comment on the case. He and the county BOER were represented at Thursday’s hearing by attorney Bill Linkous.
The 293 votes were found during a hand recount of the contentious presidential race ordered by Raffensperger.
Linkous said during Thursday’s meeting the county immediately notified the state after the memory card was found and the BOER recertified the results with the additional votes. President Joe Biden, who won Douglas County with about 62% of the vote, netted 28 votes after the 293 votes on the missing memory card were added to the total.
Linkous told the State Election Board that Douglas County hadn’t received enough training on the state’s new voting system by Dominion Voting Systems and that the county had to rely heavily on a technician provided by Dominion.
Douglas County Sentinel Managing Editor Ron Daniel contributed reporting for this article.