GA Secretary of State's Office to investigate illegal election day campaigning in Chatham County

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Officials with the Georgia Secretary of State's Office said they are launching an investigation into illegal campaigning on election day in Chatham County.

The Common Cause of Georgia, a grassroots organization, also called for an investigation into potential violations of election day laws after reports of illegal campaigning near polls on election day.

Officials with the Common Cause of Georgia said the Chatham County Board of Elections didn't handle the irregularities the right way. Violating election day laws is a misdemeanor, and while officials here confirm there were people breaking the law, they gave a verbal warning and some say that wasn't enough.

Despite signs warning people not to campaign within 150 feet of the polls, there were at least two reports of people passing out sample ballots. One man was caught on camera sitting under a "Vote Here" sign.

While Board of Election officials took care of it on the spot, "He was clearly in the wrong place," said Board of Election Chairman Tom Mahoney. "The poll manager asked him to move and he did move, and I personally went out to that scene."

But some say officials should have done more.

"I think that's doing half their job," said Common Cause of Georgia Chairman Clint Murphy. "They have a responsibility, yes to stop it, but also to find out who is responsible for it and hold them accountable."

Officials with Common Cause of Georgia said if someone was breaking the law, why wasn't law enforcement called?

"The county board of elections and the poll watchers, when they find that activity, yes they are empowered to call the police," Murphy said.

Officials at the board of elections said as far they're concerned, there's nothing to investigate.

"If people are in the wrong place and they move voluntarily, without any need for law enforcement, then that's not something we're going to report," Mahoney said. "On the other hand, if there's more information out there, I keep hearing this and I can't stress this enough, if there are allegations of dozens of incidences, we don't know about that."

Election board officials say more than 100 poll workers, who are already trained under Georgia law, will be required to take an additional test online to make sure they are clear about all the procedures and policies during election day.

They also plan to have extra police patrols to make sure that no one is violating the law. The board says they will reach out to every candidate before the election to make sure they are aware of the expectations.

"I would hope that they would make sure that the 'boots on the ground - their workers - out in the grassroots community would be informed of the campaign laws," said Tom Mahoney, Election Board Chairman.

The Common Cause of Georgia released the following statement calling for an investigation:

Common Cause Georgia, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to creating open, honest, and accountable government, is calling on the Chatham County Board of Elections to conduct an investigation into voting irregularities that took place throughout Savannah's municipal elections last Tuesday.

Addressing the Board at their Monday afternoon meeting, Chairman Clint Murphy said, "In our effort to hold power accountable, we work to empower all people to make their voice heard in the political process. This past Tuesday, local media and several citizens reported prohibited political activity at various polling places throughout the city. Georgia has specific laws that address restrictions on campaign activity within the vicinity of a polling place and they must be enforced and those who conspired to violate those laws must be held accountable." 

Murphy continued, "Intentional interference of a citizen casting their vote should not be tolerated or allowed to go unpunished. Any campaign authorizing or employing such activities should answer for their actions."

If the Chatham County Board of Elections does not authorize a formal investigation into these allegations, the group plans to take it up with the State Board of Elections. Murphy ended by stating, "we must take precautions to ensure that voters are not interfered with when casting their vote in future elections."

Copyright 2015 WTOC. All rights reserved.