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Shannon Whitfield

Walker County Commission candidate Shannon Whitfield is under investigation over some allegedly improper activity during the May 24 Republican primary.

The Georgia Secretary of State's Office on Sept. 8 opened an inquiry about poll watchers in the county. The filing with the statewide elections office does not provide any further details on the allegations, but LaFayette radio station WQCH reported Whitfield is the target of the case.

"We have opened a formal investigation into the matter," Secretary of State spokeswoman Candice Broce told the Times Free Press in an email Friday. "I cannot disclose additional details until the case is referred for review in front of the State Election Board."

Jim Buckner, chairman of the Walker County elections board, said a state investigator contacted the local elections office earlier this month, asking about whether two people monitored polling sites on May 24 without permission. Buckner said only a kernel of the allegation is true.

On May 24, when Whitfield competed with Mike Peardon for the Republican Party nomination for Walker County commissioner, an unidentified person showed up to the voting precinct in LaFayette, Ga., asking to monitor the polls. An elections worker told the person he or she couldn't stay, Buckner said, and the person went home.

Later that day, after the polls closed, somebody else showed up to the precinct in Fairview, Ga. Buckner said that person wanted to watch the elections office employees drive the ballots to LaFayette, where they would be counted.

"There was an allegation that these people were there for the whole day," Buckner said of the Secretary of State's investigation. "That would be totally inaccurate."

Candidates and political parties can appoint people as poll watchers in Georgia, but Buckner said their names must be submitted to the elections office at least one week in advance. This allows elections office employees to print badges identifying the poll watchers.

Buckner said some candidates worry about voter fraud and appoint friends to monitor the polls, making sure there is no impropriety.

After the primary election, which Whitfield won with 75 percent of the vote, Buckner said he was told about the two unregistered people who tried to monitor the polls. He figured the problem would be better handled internally, with extra training for the elections office and the political parties — just to make sure everybody understood the rules.

It's unclear how the LaFayette radio station identified Whitfield as the person under investigation. The Secretary of State's Office did not confirm who was the target of the inquiry. Whitfield said he didn't use poll watchers and had not heard about the issue until this week. He wondered whether his opponent in the November election, Bebe Heiskell, drove the allegation.

"This all seems to be just a campaign ploy to try to make my campaign look bad," he said. "People know that we're running a strong campaign. They're just looking for any reason to throw mud on us. They're really struggling to find anything."

Heiskell said she did not know the person who filed the complaint, Ben Lively, of Rock Spring, Ga. Lively's listed phone number does not work, and he did not respond to a private Facebook message asking about the case. Heiskell said she also didn't know anything about the allegations before this week.

"I had nothing to do with that," she said. "That was not my election [in May]."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.