Former Chattooga County judge Carlton Vines and a handful of his campaign supporters could face fines topping $100,000 from the State Election Board.
“We’ve directed the attorney general and inspector general to prepare a notice of violation that we will take up at our next meeting,” board member Randy Evans said Wednesday.
The board’s action stems from alleged voter fraud in the 2006 state court judge election.
Criminal charges against Vines were dropped last month in exchange for his resignation and promise to never seek or accept judicial office again. In earlier proceedings that ended in a mistrial, several of his volunteers testified under immunity from prosecution.
But Evans said attorneys told the board Tuesday the immunities and agreement with Vines would not carry over to the administrative case.
“Those two narrow issues were presented to us,” he said. “We asked if any of that was binding on us and the answer was no, it is not.”
Election Board spokeswoman Whitney Halterman said she could not comment about the specifics of the pending case, but she provided a list of the respondents.
In addition to Vines, the board is looking into possible election law violations by the Chattooga County Board of Registrars; Albert C. Palmour; Canduis McCutchins; Sidney Johnson; Anthony Odell Sparks; Tommie Cheryl Eskew; Steve J. Chappelear; Dorothy Gilreath; and Lois Reed.
“We deliberately didn’t take action while the criminal proceeding was ongoing, but we’re going to move as expeditiously as we can,” Evans said. “Our hope is that we will have this addressed in a final way by the end of the year.”
If the board decides to proceed, a hearing would be scheduled before an administrative law judge. Penalties, which are set by the board, can range from a reprimand to a fine of as much as $5,000 per violation.
“There are 18 ballots at issue, according to one count,” Evans said. “Then there are the corollary violations associated with other handling of ballots, so there could be 20 to 30 violations.”
Absentee ballots put Vines in the state court judge seat ahead of opponent Samuel C. Finster in the 2006 election. Following an investigation initiated by Secretary of State Karen Handel, Vines was charged with unlawful possession of ballots, conspiracy to commit election fraud and false swearing.
During the March trial, some campaign workers testified they gave voters absentee ballots and delivered at least some of the sealed ballots to Vines’ office for filing. Eighteen sequentially numbered ballots were mailed using a postage meter in Palmour’s office.
Vines was defended by Summerville attorneys Bobby Lee Cook and Rex Abernathy, who argued instructions on the ballots did not make it clear they must be returned by the voter. The jury could not reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.
Cook said Wednesday he was unaware the State Election Board is considering separate action but “I’ll be involved in it.”
“Anything that’s got to do with Karen Handel, I’ll be involved in,” he said.
Finster was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to take over Vines’ state court judgeship. The term expires in 2010.
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