COVINGTON, Ga. — The Georgia Secretary of State’s office is investigating alleged illegal campaign tactics by Sheriff Ezell Brown after receiving complaints Brown and someone representing his campaign got too close to voters last week.
One complaint references a photo — eventually shared on social media — that appears to show a box truck representing Brown’s campaign traveling next to a line of voters on a Pace Street sidewalk near the Newton County Administration Building in downtown Covington Monday, Oct. 12.
A separate complaint alleges the sheriff personally talked to those in line on the same day in violation of the state-mandated 25-foot barrier.
Video screens on the side of the truck’s cargo area appear to be broadcasting a campaign video of Brown within the required 25-foot barrier that state law mandates between anyone soliciting votes and voters standing in line.
A video taken by someone at the scene showed a sheriff’s deputy ordering the truck to the side of the road, a complainant told The Covington News.
Brown, who is seeking re-election to a fourth term in the Nov. 3 General Election, said a donor gave the use of the truck to his campaign.
The driver from north Georgia was unfamiliar with the area and was told to drive on U.S. Hwy. 278 and in other areas of the county. He then followed other vehicles with flags and signs supporting presidential candidates on Pace Street, which runs between the Covington Square and Hwy. 278, Brown said.
“Since he was not familiar with the area, he ended up near the administrative building,” Brown said.
Deputies in the area then stopped him and the other trucks and informed them they were not allowed in the area because of the proximity to voters in line, Brown said.
“Again, it is important to mention that the driver was passing through the area. After being told that this was a voting area, and that he could not be near the precinct, he parked 300 (to) 400 feet away from the building,” Brown said.
Brown said he was acting as sheriff and “not candidate” when he traveled to the administration building on the same first day of the advance voting period before the Nov. 3 General Election.
He said the trip was in response to “several calls from citizens and the supervising deputy referencing the extremely long lines and related extended waiting periods” for voters.
“By constitutional law, I am mandated to respond to issues related to elections,” Brown said.
State law, O.C.G.A. 15-16-10, mandates the sheriff in Georgia “attend the place or places of holding an election at the county site, on the day of an election, from the open to the closing of the polls.”
“I have not and would not abuse this power,” Brown said.
“I am very familiar with the rules of the office of sheriff and campaign laws,” he said.
He said he was in the area three to five minutes during which “there was absolutely no conversation about voting for myself or anyone else.”
Brown said two women approached him to say they wanted to file a complaint about the lines for advance voting, and he told them the procedure began with the county elections board.
Another person in the area thanked him for the sheriff’s office’s Explorer program.
“I carried myself in the same manner I do every day, just speaking to everyone,” Brown said.
He said he then spoke with elections director Angela Mantle about the voter lines, before walking away from the area with a supervising deputy. He then waited in a nearby parking lot for a deputy to return with his purchasing card after the deputy bought food and drinks for other deputies assigned to the event.
Brown said he spoke with someone from the Secretary of State’s office about the incident and “gave them a play-by-play account of what actually happened.”
“I also invited them to conduct their own investigation,” he said.