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Sheriff's cars will be kept away from polling places

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Sheriff's deputies will not be providing security at the polls during upcoming elections, said Annie Bright, director of the county's board of elections, because their cars could be construed as campaign signs.

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill had his deputy's cars repainted, in August 2005, seven months after he took office. The new design included Hill's name on the side of each car.

At the time, the redesign was criticized by some county officials as expensive and needless, but Hill defended the decision, saying he wanted the public to know who was responsible for all the deputies' actions.

Now, Hill is up for re-election and facing four contenders, some of the sheriff's critics have privately said the cars serve as rolling billboards for his campaign.

State election law does not allow campaigning, or campaign signs, within 150 feet of a polling place. Normally, a candidate's name on a sign would be understood to be a campaign sign, but it's not clear in this case.

Bright said she didn't know if the deputies' car would be considered campaign advertisements, but the election board has decided, "it would be better to be safe."

Election security has not yet been arranged, Bright said. Though deputies have provided poll security in the past, she said the election board will not be considering the sheriff's office, as long as the sitting sheriff is on the ballot.

Rick Thompson, spokesman for the State Ethics Commission, said the commission has never dealt with a case like this one -- to decide if a elected official's name on a vehicle constitutes a campaign sign.

"We don't have an official position on that issue," Thompson said. He noted that the deputies' vehicles don't bear signs saying "Vote for Victor Hill" or "Re-elect Victor Hill," which clearly would violate the state campaign law.

Hill was fined $2,000 by the State Ethics Commission, last month, for violating Georgia's campaign law. According to a consent order, signed by Hill on Nov. 7, he "improperly used county resources," when he advertised campaign fund-raisers in a department newsletter and an intra-office memo.

Hill agreed he had violated the law, according to the commission document, and agreed to pay within 45 days the fine and attorney fees, from his own personal fund. By signing the order, Hill waived his right to appeal the fine.

Hill did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.