Ga. Secretary of State investigating vote-buying in Milton

6:03 p.m Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 Local
Photo courtesy Cooper Carry/The Wilbert Group
A Facebook page was offering restaurant gift cards to people who sent in photos of themselves with campaign signs for specific candidates.

A Facebook page in Milton has now caught the attention of Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Secretary of State.

Candice Broce, the press secretary for Kemp, said in an email that the Secretary of State’s office “initiated a formal investigation into an allegation of vote-buying within the City of Milton” on Friday.

Last week, the page titled “We Call Milton Home” was offering gift cards to a local restaurant to people who sent in photos of themselves with “I Voted” stickers and campaign signs for Joe Lockwood, Peyton Jamison and Laura Bentley, who were candidates for offices in the city. On Tuesday, Lockwood was re-elected to a fourth term as Milton’s mayor, and Bentley and Jamison were elected to the council.

MORE: Facebook page offered gift cards for support of Milton candidates

RESULTS: Lockwood re-elected to fourth term

Broce could not comment on the details of the investigation because it is ongoing. She said that what generally happens is after the office completes the investigation it will present its findings to the state election board, which will decide whether Georgia election laws have been violated.

“I cannot provide a timeline on how long it might take to complete the investigation,” Broce said.

The Facebook page calls itself a place for discussion on “all things Milton” and has more than 3,000 followers. It deleted its post where it offered entrance into a raffle for $30 gift cards to Campania, a pizza and pasta restaurant.

Jennifer Muller, the owner of Campania, said the restaurant “had nothing to do with the post” and was “totally blindsided by” it.

“We Call Milton Home” did not respond to a request for comment from the AJC and deleted another post where it wrote that it thought offering the gift cards was “okay” but that they took the post down after reading up on Georgia’s election laws.

The Official Code of Georgia — Title 21, Chapter 2, Article 15 — states “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.”

READ: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s election video under investigation

READ: Inside Milton’s new city hall

The Facebook page has said it is not affiliated with or funded by anyone who was running for office in Milton, but posted on Election Day that it was endorsing Bentley, Jamison and Lockwood.

In an interview with the AJC last week, Lockwood said he “wasn’t really aware” of the post, didn’t follow the page, didn’t know who ran it, and said he “certainly would not have any part of that.”

Lockwood defeated challenger Dr. Laura Rencher in Tuesday’s election, garnering 66 percent of the vote. Jamison ran unopposed, while Bentley unseated incumbent councilman Bill Lusk.

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