Ruling declares Watts violated election laws

A dispute dating back several years that rankled the local Republican party regarding accusations of voter registration fraud received an Initial Decision from a state administrative law judge.

An order signed Feb. 6 by Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker ruled that Lane Watts had violated laws of the Georgia Election Code by submitting false information to the Fayette County Board of Elections and Voter Registration. The decision called for three sanctions: Payment of a $5,000 civil penalty to the State Election Board, cease and desist from further violations, and a public reprimand.

Watts was the chairman of the Republican Party’s organization for the state’s Third Congressional District from 2007 through 2010 before he resigned after multiple complaints. He chaired the Fayette County Republican Party from 2011 to 2012. Following the 2010 census, the state legislature formulated a redistricting plan that split the Republican base in Fayette County, leaving his listed address of 201 Patricia Lane, Fayetteville in the 13th Congressional District and a rental property he owned at 109 Gelding Garth, Peachtree City in the 3rd Congressional District.

In September 2011, Watts submitted a voter registration change-of-address form to the Fayette County Board of Elections and Voter Registration changing his voting address to 109 Gelding Garth. At that time, the home was leased to a tenant, Christian Alfaro, who was listed as paying the utilities. In testimony, Alfaro, along with other witnesses, stated that Watts did not live at 109 Gelding Garth during the time in question.

According to the state’s findings of fact, February 18, 2012 Watts attended a Republican Party precinct meeting for 109 Gelding Garth’s precinct and was elected as precinct delegate to the Fayette County Republican Party Convention. The day following the March 6, 2012 presidential primary Watts submitted another change-of-address form saying he lived at 201 Patricia Lane. March 10, 2012, Watts attended the Fayette County Republican Party Convention and sought election as a delegate for the national Republican convention.

County Commissioner Steve Brown also participated in the convention and voiced his concerns that Watts had already been elected as delegate from one precinct and was aiming to be a county delegate from a second precinct. Brown and others would petition would petition to the Fayette County Republican Party for a hearing on the dispute.

“This ruling has significant implications related to several other lawsuits and actions of the Board of Commissioners,” said Brown in an email to this newspaper. “Mr. Watts’s actions have caused a lot of unnecessary expense and blemished the reputation of the Fayette County Republican Party and our Board of Elections and Voter Registration.”

Watts’s mother, Marilyn, and others testified that he had in fact moved to 109 Gelding Garth before returning.

As part of the decision, it was noted that Watts never changed the address on his vehicle registration, driver’s license, income tax filings, or mail to 109 Gelding Garth, indicating he still lived at 201 Patricia Lane.

Watts could choose to file a motion for reconsideration or an application for agency review.

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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