A Cherokee circuit court judge dropped the second indictment in the election fraud case against suspended Chattooga County State Judge Carlton Vines on Monday.
Vines is charged with illegal possession of ballots, conspiracy to commit election fraud and false swearing in connection with the November 2006 general election.
The grand jury first indicted Vines on the same charges in September 2008, then again in October and for a third time in January.
Judge G. Carey Nelson, who is presiding over the case after all the Chattooga Superior court judges were recused, dismissed the initial indictment in October 2008 and dropped the second indictment Monday at the request of the prosecution.
Nelson heard oral arguments on motions filed for the first and second indictments — many of which will be included for the third.
“Most of all the issues, or many of the issues, appear to be the same,” he said.
The defense has filed a number of motions seeking to have charges against Vines dismissed, even challenging portions of Georgia law.
Vines’ attorney, Bobby Lee Cook, stated O.C.G.A 21-2-574 is unconstitutionally vague or at least being misinterpreted.
Georgia law stipulates that it is a felony for anyone other than an election official, or appointee, to be in possession of “official ballots” outside of a polling place.
Defense attorney Jeffery O. Bramlett argued that absentee ballots do not qualify as “official ballots” and used the analogy of 17 deployed servicemen who wish to vote to argue his point.
He asked whether a serviceman who put the absentee ballots for his 16 comrades in the mail would be guilty of a felony.
Prosecuting attorney Gary Bergman said that is the case.
“Absentee ballots are official ballots,” Bergman said, and it is unlawful to possess another person’s absentee ballot.
Vines’ attorneys declined to have the judge decide on the constitutionality of the indictment Monday putting it off until Feb. 9.
Defense attorneys have until Jan. 27 to file additional motions, and the prosecution has until Feb. 6 to respond.
Oral arguments for motions submitted and carried into the new indictment will be heard in Bartow County Superior Court on Feb. 9 in Courtroom C.
Nelson said he expects the trial to begin in late March to early April — with a tentative date set for the week of March 23.
The case centers around a close race for State Court judge in the 2006 election, which was eventually decided by absentee ballots. Vines beat incumbent Sam Finster by 125 votes. Finster won the ballot box by 2,119 votes to 1,943 but lost the absentee vote 336 to 637.
ROME NEWS TRIBUNE