Paul Lee, the former Ringgold mayoral candidate and professional wrestler, was named in a report from the Georgia Secretary of State's Office alleging Lee tried to buy votes during the 2019 campaign by offering a free meal to any voter if he won the election.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a news release Thursday that the election board sent a batch of alleged "voting violations" to prosecutors after hearing what investigators had discovered across the state.
"We will continue to root out voting fraud and make sure anyone guilty of it faces prosecution," Raffensperger said in the release. "Fortunately, these individual cases aren't large enough to change the outcome of a statewide election. Their prosecution is an example to others who may contemplate skirting the rules that protect election integrity in Georgia."
The Georgia Election Board met Wednesday and heard findings from 63 different cases of alleged voter fraud and violations. The board voted to refer 24 cases to the state attorney general for prosecution. The cases occurred between 2017 and 2020.
During the campaign in October 2019, Lee posted on his Facebook page encouraging people to vote in the upcoming election. He did not specify that they should vote for him in this particular post.
"SPECIAL NOTICE TO ALL VOTERS IN CITY OF RINGGOLD," he posted. "I want ALL voters to come out in this election and Vote for whoever they want, we have over 3,800 citizens on the city and only a small amount comes out and vote, BUT if I'm elected Mayor of Ringgold save your 'I Voted' stickers and I will go ahead and boost business with local downtown restaurants, as I will Pick up to 2 restaurants and buy everyone who voted and have their decal a FREE meal, this shows my compassion for our downtown businesses and Thankfulness for all who have supported me. Thank you and 'Let's Make Ringgold RIGHT.'"
Tonya Moore, the director of Catoosa County elections, submitted the post to the state election board.
After the board's decision, the attorney general's office will get in touch with Lee. Walter Jones with the Secretary of State's Office said these cases usually end with an agreed-upon fine and in Lee's case, because it was good-natured and not with malice, the fine shouldn't be drastic.
Lee's case was one of 24 cases that was bound over to the attorney general's office after the board concluded the investigations found probable cause of an election law violation.
Lee said he was busy when the Times Free Press contacted him at work at Budget Sales Used Auto on Friday afternoon. He told the paper he would comment when he had time.
In a mayoral race that was messy with small-town politics at times, Ringgold Mayor Nick Millwood came out on top in 2019 to win his second term.
Millwood got 63.8% of the vote, beating Tony Hullender with 27% and Lee with 8.7%.
Lee, long a vocal critic of Millwood, refused to shake Millwood's hand after the election.
"I wanted to make a change, but clearly the citizens didn't want that change," Lee said the night of the election. "It was a good race. Tomorrow I'll wake up, and I'll still be Paul Lee."
Millwood was first elected mayor in 2015 after a complicated, and at times controversial, election.
In the 2015 race, Lee was disqualified from running after it was determined his house was outside city limits, but not before he called the Catoosa County court a "kangaroo court" and Millwood a "clown competitor." He moved into the city by the time of the 2019 campaign.
Raffensperger reiterated there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in either of Georgia's elections and added "Georgia is recognized as a national leader in elections."
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.