Panama City Attorney Under Investigation In Florida And Georgia
Georgia elections officials are checking their records for any additional voter registration forms that could be tied to a residence outside Atlanta after a Panama City attorney attempted to register online using his brother's address and publicly invited others to join him.
“We flagged the address,” said Paulding County Elections Supervisor Deidre Holden. “We’re trying to make sure no one else is using that address to do the same thing.”
In a now-deleted Facebook Live video, personal injury lawyer Bill Price, who lives in Bay County, announced plans to temporarily move to his brother’s house in Hiram, Georgia. Price also shared the address with fellow GOP members and anyone else who watched online.
“We absolutely have to hold the Senate," Price said at the local Republican Party chapter's live-streamed meeting. “We have to do whatever it takes. And if that means changing your address for a couple of months, so be it. I’m doing it.”
Holden says she’s waiting to find out from the Secretary of State’s office whether any other registration forms were submitted using that address. If any fraudulent forms are identified, the board won’t approve them, she said.
"We can’t see those applications because the state is going to have to give us those numbers, so we can go in there and verify that."
In the video, Bay County GOP chairman Debbie Wood can be heard off-camera asking about how to submit an online registration form in Georgia. But Holden has confirmed that nobody with that name had submitted an application to the county's elections office within the last month.
As for attorney Bill Price, his application was still pending when investigators shared the video with her, Holden said.
"I went into our system and pulled it up, and he had attempted to register on November 8th," Holden said. "It’s sitting there in pending status because he could not provide a Georgia driver’s license number."
First-time voters must show proof of residencybefore casting a ballot. This could include a state-issued ID, a utility bill, pay stub, government check, bank statement or other government document with the voter's name and address.
If an applicant doesn't provide a state ID number with their online application, they must also mail a signed copy of their registration form before county elections officials will approve it, Holden said.
Holden says her staff is on the lookout for a paper application from Price in case he sent one.
She says this is the first time she’s ever seen a case in which an out-of-state resident publicly announced plans to register to vote in a statewide election before submitting a fraudulent application online.
“We haven’t had to ever deal with anything like this,” Holden said. “When people register to vote, they are signing an oath.”
Applicants must swear that the information on their voter registration form is correct. They must also affirm that they live in the state, are old enough to vote and haven’t been convicted of a felony. “That oath is serious.”
Investigators will later present their findings to the Georgia State Board of Elections, which will determine whether or not the state will prosecute. The board hasn’t yet set a date for its next meeting.
In Georgia, registering to vote without intending to stay in the state is a felony offense. Anyone who's convicted could face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000.
The Florida Bar automatically files formal complaints with the state Supreme Court anytime one of its members is convicted of a felony offense, even if it's in another state, Francine Walker, director of public information, wrote in an email.
The court could then decide to revoke the attorney's license, suspend it, issue a fine or take no disciplinary action.
Walker confirmed The Bar has opened a case into Price, though she explained she couldn't give specific details because the investigation is ongoing.
Price hasn’t yet responded to a phone message left with a receptionist at his law firm and two email requests for comment since WFSU News first shed light on the now-deleted video.
For weeks, elections officials have been warning political activists across the spectrum not to register to vote in the state if they don’t live there.
Several groups are under investigation after officials say they discovered mailers, postcards and fliers were circulated, urging non-permanent residents to vote in the state’s upcoming Senate runoff elections.
At Emory University, students were encouraged by Operation New Voter Registration GA to cast a ballot in the upcoming Senate runoffs even if they didn't permanently reside in the state, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has announced in a recent press release.
According to the release: "A flier from the group told students that 'Your current residence can be another state. You are simply changing your state of residence now; and it can be switched back for future elections (your option).'"
“It’s unfortunate that people are willing to go to whatever extreme it takes to make sure their candidate wins an election. That’s not right,” said Paulding County Elections Supervisor Deidre Holden. “I don’t care what party you are affiliated with. It just goes back to doing what’s right.”
Holden says proving residency isn't easy for someone who doesn't live in the state because applying for a state-issued ID is a "complex process." She says she believes that would've ultimately kept Panama City attorney Bill Price's application from getting approved if he hadn't also announced his plans on video.
"I don’t think someone who wants to vote in an election is going to produce all of that documentation," Holden said. "I think that would be one of the things that would’ve stopped him."
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