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State Election Board alleges Covington resident illegally voted as non-citizen
Newton election office found discrepancy in 2019 and gave information to Secretary of State
Early voting line1
Voters stand in line on the sidewalk along Elm Street in downtown Covington and wait to cast ballots at the county election office on the first day of the advance voting period before the Nov. 3 General Election. - photo by Tom Spigolon

EDITOR'S NOTE: This version of the story updates an earlier version with additional information.

ATLANTA — A Covington resident was listed among organizations and individuals that a state agency on Wednesday, Feb. 10, referred for criminal prosecution for alleged violations of state election laws.

The State Election Board bound over Sean Watson of Covington for prosecution for allegedly being a non-citizen and voting, according to a Georgia Secretary of State news release. 

The Election Board listed Watson among 34 cases it recommended that local district attorneys or the state attorney general prosecute for violating state election laws.

Watson registered originally in November 2008 and said he was a U.S. citizen because he believed he automatically became one when his mother obtained her citizenship, the Newton County Board of Elections reported.

He voted in the November 2008 General Election, a November 2012 Special Election and the November 2018 General Election, the board reported.  

However, he did not meet the criteria to become a citizen under derivation, which refers to a law that allows children of non-citizens to meet certain criteria to automatically become citizens if their parents become citizens before the child reaches 18 years of age, said Phil Johnson, chairman of the Newton County Board of Elections.

The Newton County Board of Elections discovered the discrepancy in 2019 when checking driver license renewal applications against existing registrations, Johnson said.

He said the Newton elections office notified Watson that he had to prove citizenship by letter on April 12, 2019; July 12, 2019, and July 17, 2019.

When Watson did not respond, the elections office referred the matter to the Secretary of State’s office, Johnson said.

District Attorney Randy McGinley said he was unsure Thursday, Feb. 11, if his office or the State Attorney General will receive the case for prosecution.

McGinley said the state law defining the duties of the State Election Board says the board will report violations “either to the Attorney General or the appropriate district attorney who shall be responsible for further investigation and prosecution.”

“The law does not provide any distinction as to which agency the report should be made to, so it appears that decision is solely up to the Board,” he said.

“If my office does receive any report from the Board, we will completely review the facts and circumstances of the incident reported before making a decision as to what action my office will take,” McGinley said.

An effort to reach Watson for comment proved unsuccessful.

The Secretary of State’s Office investigation division has 23 sworn officers with arrest power and experience as detectives in law enforcement, a news release stated. 

They investigate allegations of voting irregularities and present their findings to the State Election Board, which can levy fines, issue a letter of instruction or refer the case for prosecution, the release stated.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, chairman of the five-member Election Board, said, “Election fraud is not tolerated in Georgia. When there is evidence of it, the people responsible face prosecution."

“Georgia has multiple safeguards in place that allow our team of investigators to discover fraudulent voting," he said. "They worked to catch the wrongdoing in these cases, and they maintain the security of Georgia elections.”

Among the cases the Election Board bound over for prosecution Wednesday were four incidents of felons voting or registering to vote, four cases of non-citizens voting or registering to vote and one case of misplaced ballots during the 2020 general election, which didn’t change the outcome but did affect the total, the release stated. 

The Board also sent for prosecution charges against canvassers for two organizations trying to register people to vote, including one who allegedly submitted registration applications they knew were false, the release stated.