State: Candidate allowed to stay on ballot

Nearly two months after the Secretary of State's office began its review of the eligibility of a candidate running for state office, officials have determined Deanna Harris is allowed to continue her campaign.

She's a Republican running for a state house seat in Marietta. The decision comes after a candidate challenge brought by her opponent.

The Secretary of State's office told the CBS46 Bulldog team they were looking into the matter following our initial report.

(MORE: CBS46 Bulldog confronts candidate dodging questions of campaign eligibility)

The candidate challenge by her opponent followed soon after.

In the end, it was up to the Secretary of State to interpret the law and make a decision. That decision is outlined in a letter sent to Harris' opponent, which states the candidate challenge is denied.

Questions about her eligibility were raised after she signed a state candidacy declaration, which stated she had not been convicted and sentenced in any court for a felony involving moral turpitude in the last 10 years.

Harris is a convicted felon in Florida. She pleaded nolo contendere, or "no contest," for bank theft charges in 2009.

In 2012, records show she was re-arrested for failing to pay restitution in full.

In the decision, the Secretary of State's office cites Georgia law, which states a no contest plea cannot disqualify someone from running for office.

The CBS46 legal team reviewed that information. They found that despite language in Georgia law that seems to speak specifically to no contest pleas made in the state of Georgia, the State Supreme Court has interpreted the law broadly to cover no contest please made in other state's courts.

Despite what appears to be conflicting language in the State Constitution, the law is up for interpretation by the Secretary of State, as well as the courts.

The Secretary of State says Harris is eligible to run, which means she'll be on the ballot in November unless a court challenge decides otherwise.

Harris appeared on Real Talk with Rashad Richey on WAOK to discuss the decision.

She took the chance to challenge our reporting.

Richey: "For the life of me, I don't understand why that is part of what you want to bring up?"

Harris: "Jonathan Carlson showed up, it became a whole situation."

Richey: "He is the guy who covered the story originally. This is a win for you. He broke the story. You should want the same avenue, you want that guy to report the update of the initial exclusive."

Harris declined to do an interview with CBS46 after appearing on the show. We requested interviews in our initial reporting, but only received written statements from the candidate, not addressing our specific questions.

Copyright 2018 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. 

Chief Investigative Reporter

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