There Should be Consequences in South Fulton for Election Law Violations

Recently, Fox 5 Atlanta’s Dale Russell published an article on City of South Fulton Solicitor LaDawn Jones and her voter registration “incentive.” In it, Russell described how Jones offered defendants in municipal court a reduced fine if they registered to vote or had already voted.

From the article:

“On her Twitter feed, Ms. Jones linked to an article describing Taylor Swift’s call for voter registration and proclaimed: “We registered voters in the City of South Fulton today. Everyone got $50 off their citation if they registered or confirmed their registration….

A court clerk told me there were 110 people on Judge Tiffany Seller’s calendar yesterday and that approximately 90 percent took the $50 off their fine to register or showed they had already registered.”

Jones told Fox 5 that she was considering ‘civic involvement’ when determining the fine and noted that she did not ask anyone with which political party they associated.

After reading about the ‘incentives’, I quickly found myself with with some pretty strong opinions on this incident. Perhaps it is the perception of hypocrisy after her calls for criminal charges against Brian Kemp, or maybe it is the blatant disregard for the law, or it could be the “rules for thee but not for me” mentality that seems to emanate from elected and appointed officials these days. Whatever the cause, my opinions and understanding of the law lead me to believe there should be consequences.

Jones is undoubtedly well-versed on the law as a practicing lawyer, a former state representative, and a current prosecutor for a city in one of our state’s largest counties. She also credits herself with a candidate school where she trains political candidates running for office. Jones is a political pundit – including here at GeorgiaPol.com – and talks shop on outlets across the state. She should know better and I believe she does know better.

The municipal judge in the City of South Fulton told Fox 5 that she did not believe any laws were broken, but election law attorney Bryan Tyson is quoted in the Fox 5 article and he later penned his own on Medium where he stated the act was illegal. And a felony.

In Georgia, our laws dictate that you cannot offer another person anything of value in exchange for voter registration, a vote, or a vote for a particular candidate. When federal candidates appear on the ballot as well – like instances Congressional races – it becomes a violation of federal law.

This is not an interpretation of the law either. It is clear as day. O.C.G.A. 21-2-570 reads: 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.

A reduction of a fine owed is money in your pocket, is it not? If so, the reduction of a fine under the discretion of a prosecutor who considered voter registration status in reducing said fine (that is otherwise codified by state law or local ordinance) is a financial gift, is it not?

If you visit the referenced chapter of the Georgia code, most of the other election-related offenses are misdemeanors, but incentivizing or offering gifts in exchange for something related to a vote is a felony…because it is much more serious.

[If you have the time, I encourage you to read Tyson’s article as he does a nice job articulating specific examples of what is and isn’t okay when encouraging “civic duty.”]

Something similar happened in New York in September of this year where gift cards were offered in exchange for voter registration. It was deemed illegal by election law experts there, too. It comes up every election cycle and every election cycle, legal experts remind people NOT to do it.

Federal law is just as stringent and offers stiffer penalties — up to $10,000 in fines and/or imprisonment up to five years. While it requires ‘willful’ commission, federal law does not require that the payment actually be made or that any individuals actually register to vote or vote for the act to be considered committed. This is stricter than state law because it is clear about ‘anything’ of monetary value, which seems to cancels Jones’ defense to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which she says no money was actually offered.

The Alliance for Justice has a voter advocacy guide the states, “ Similarly, handing out free cupcakes to individuals to register to vote or offering a service at a discounted rate to individuals who provide proof that they voted would be prohibited” under federal law.

Though we could all speculate and grandstand about the political leanings of those who benefitted from the incentive Jones offered, it really is not necessary. This is not a partisan issue – it is an integrity issue that can’t be excused by the idea of civil disobedience or the public interest of ‘civic engagement.’ The integrity of our elections should be sacred.

It is not unusual for municipal judges to be unclear about the law, but I doubt that any action will be taken locally, even with the codified evidence brought to light and Jones’ admission that the act occurred. Not handling it locally leaves a district attorney in another county, the GBI, or federal authorities, given the clear violations of the law.

Whether or not a bar complaint is necessary, or perhaps an ethics complaint in the City of South Fulton, is not for me to decide. But some sort of deterrent to keep this from happening in the future would go a long way.

There should be repercussions for this kind of flagrant behavior that occurred and was showcased on social media after the fact. Jones’ position as solicitor is a position of power and, therefore, sets a higher standard of moral and ethical character. Jones can’t claim ignorance here, but she could claim it was “a mistake.” Much like those who appear before her in the City of South Fulton, Jones knows that state law requires people be held accountable for their “mistakes.”

And if Jones doesn’t like the law, I would encourage her to lobby her elected officials for a change.

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Will DurantJessica SzilagyidownthemiddleAndrew C. PopeScottNAtlanta Recent comment authors
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Gregs
Gregs

Sounds like a poorly considered political stunt. But yes, there should be consequences or others will want to “one-up” this type of activity and thus begin a race to the bottom.

Indypendant
Indypendant

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the race to the bottom started long ago.

We rounded Pussygrabber corner and are headed for the home stretch. Let’s get past dismembering a journalist and then we’ll get to LaDawn.

Gregs
Gregs

Two wrongs don’t make one right. The one-ups-man-ship and what-about-ism is precisely what is wrong with politics today!

It maybe true that others have committed worst acts but that does not mitigate the fact that she shouldn’t have done it and should face some type of a rebuke for having done so.

Benevolus
Benevolus

Right.
The current sec of state is wholesale disenfranchising voters, busloads of elderly people are being hindered from voting, the governors office recommended a consultant who recommended a county dismantle almost ALL it’s voting locations… and Dems are supposed sit down and shut up?

Gregs
Gregs

No, they shouldnt sit down and shut up. The two choices aren’t shut up or become what you hate!

Benevolus
Benevolus

I wish that were the case. I am coming around to the idea that you have to play dirty to win.Then you can try to clean yourself off. I hate it, but if we don’t win (in my view) we get fascism. It may already be too late.
We played nice for too long, but we, as a society, are not ready yet. The base impulses of fear and insecurity are still too close.

Gregs
Gregs

Be best!

NoParty4Me
NoParty4Me

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, but it’s common sense you don’t mix court proceedings, reduction of fines, with personal choices about voting. No ad hoc voter registration inside the courtroom. Can I get a Duh-oh!?

Benevolus
Benevolus

There should be repercussions for lots of tweets these days.

armanidog
armanidog

Ms. Jones made a big boo-boo. Even if not found to be illegal, it is a bad look and tarnishes her reputation which might come back to haunt her.
I remember Dodge county and how cash for votes was routine. People would be paid in the courthouse as they waited to vote.
https://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/23/us/georgia-gets-tough-on-a-county-tradition-vote-buying.html

Noway2016
Noway2016

Is this a felony or misdemeanor violation of the law on both state and federal levels? And with her admitting to it. Don’t look good.

Benevolus
Benevolus

Oh boy! I hope twitter comments are legally binding! This will be epic!
Who knew this little episode would have global implications!

Michael
Michael

This is an old law. The language regarding registration and offenses that may flow therefrom was not added until 1999. Before 1999 (and at least all the way back to 1898), this law was only concerned with the buying or selling of votes. The 1998 version of this law reads, “[a]ny person who buys or sells, offers to buy or sell, or knowingly participates in the buying or selling of votes at any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony.” O.C.G.A. § 21-2-570 (1998). I don’t know why the law was changed in 1999 to include the violations… Read more »

xdog
xdog

Your comment is very reasonable.

bethebalance
bethebalance

Also, if someone was already registered, and just “confirmed their registration”, then dropping $50 is just plain ole prosecutorial discretion. Also, I just don’t think that a reduction in fine pursuant to prosecutorial discretion is the same as giving money or a gift. The judge has the final say over the fine, so if the judge approves a reduced amount, there has technically been no “discount”. It’s just a reduced amount pursuant to prosecutorial discretion. But I agree that the optics aren’t great– unless of course you believe that registering voters is a civic good. Then it looks like a… Read more »

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

Jessica, how indignant are you about the 57,000 people Kemp is holding up to register
How indignant are you about elderly (black) people on their way to vote today who were made to get off their bus to keep them from voting.
Seems you need to point your rage at bigger fish.

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

Why do I feel like Jessica’s feelings on this would be different if it took place in John’s Creek or Marietta?
.
As Michael and Balance have pointed out, Jones has prosecutorial discretion. You know who else has prosecutorial discretion? The AUSAs for the Northern District. The folks at the Fulton County DAs office. Good luck convincing any of them to bring a case where there’s no clear evidence Jones was seeking to influence or impact someone’s vote with the offer to reduce a fine.

NoParty4Me
NoParty4Me

I certainly appreciate all the analysis and commentary from those in the field. But the law clearly states “registering” as one of the no-nos. It remains a felony under the law as stated. “Registering” is certainly non-partisan so no one can say there was an intent to buy specific votes with this incentive. I can say with experience, most laws and ordinances concerning campaign violations are ignored. Pro tip for LBJ, “Becoming a political candidate is the best way to avoid prosecution. Candidates and the Elected are above the law.”

bethebalance
bethebalance

I don’t think it’s the “registering” portion of the law that’s the stumbling block for any arguments. It’s the “giving…money or gifts” part. Clearly no money was “given”. That means someone outright got paid. Someone not paying money is most def not the same as having been given money. Is receiving more favorable negotiating discretion a “gift”? That’s where the optics look the way they do. But she is also entitled to reduce fines for any sort of reasonable community service. So, if I were a prosecutor, I wouldn’t have made those deals. But I also wouldn’t prosecute her for… Read more »

NoParty4Me
NoParty4Me

Yes, “Giving…money or gifts” for “registering” is the complete offense. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

downthemiddle
downthemiddle

A great example of CNN caught creating lies and fake news. Its totally dishonest and of course Anti -Trump and anti conservative. Keep spreading a false narrative. On a daily basis.

Does this remind anyone of the Supreme Court hearings or the Russia Probe?

http://humanevents.com/2018/10/18/fake-news-autopsy/?utm_source=coulterdaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl

Benevolus
Benevolus

Granted, they took a little license there, but I suspect the logic goes like this (which they should have said out loud): “Since Trump refuses to recognize the substance of Kaepernick’s protest, and because Trump has disparaged BLM, and because Trump has tried to rationalize White Supremacist groups, we can assume that he is talking about white people here.”

downthemiddle
downthemiddle

Took a little license!! Did the FBI “take a little license “ with the BS Fake Dossier paid for by Hiikary? And you don’t the Black Lives Matter or the Antifa Goons don’t need to be shown in a fair light?

Crap like this is why Trump keeps winning.

Benevolus
Benevolus

I should have known better.

Will Durant
Will Durant

Correct. Look at it this way, even the simple concept of an “open” thread escapes him.

bethebalance
bethebalance

It is truly amazing how any word at all can transmogrify into Hillary within the same sentence.