Georgia leaders don't blink at some 700K voter roll purges, but outdated mailers spark felony threat
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is apparently working overtime to get back in the good graces of President Donald Trump while at the same time playing good cop when the president asks him to directly disenfranchise the state’s 4.9 million voters. Silly Trump: Georgia Republicans prefer the indirect route. Hence, Raffensperger announced Monday that he “launched an investigation” into at least four grassroots organizations turning out voters. That, of course, includes former congresswoman Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project, which many have credited with helping flip Georgia blue in the recent presidential election. Raffensperger said the state has 250 open cases claiming violations of election law.
“I have issued clear warnings several times to groups and individuals working to undermine the integrity of elections in Georgia through false and fraudulent registrations,” Raffensperger said in a press release Wednesday. “The security of Georgia’s elections is of the utmost importance. We have received specific evidence that these groups have solicited voter registrations from ineligible individuals who have passed away or live out of state. I will investigate these claims thoroughly and take action against anyone attempting to undermine our elections.”
Nsé Ufot, chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project, called Raffensperger’s true intentions to suppress voters obvious in a press release Monday. “As Georgians are turning out in record numbers to have their voices heard at the polls, the Secretary of State is resorting to desperate attempts to smear law-abiding organizations and scare eligible Georgians from registering to vote in critical upcoming elections. We will not be deterred,” she said. “This attack on our organization comes at a time when people across the country have witnessed the strength of our program and the collective power of a new Georgia electorate that embraces a system of inclusivity and opportunity for all Georgians. The timing is not accidental.”
In a state riddled with allegations of vote suppression, the New Georgia Project nonprofit registered more than 500,000 people from underrepresented communities in Georgia. But instead of applauding the organization’s work, Raffensperger accused it along with a group called Operation New Voter Registration Georgia and nonprofits America Votes and Vote Forward, of “repeatedly and aggressively” seeking to register “ineligible, out-of-state, or deceased voters” before the Senate runoff.
“Over the past several weeks, individuals in Georgia and around the country have reported voter registration solicitations sent by The New Georgia Project to individuals living out of state and people who have passed away,” Raffensperger’s office said. “One Fulton County resident reported receiving 5 postcards from The New Georgia Project soliciting a registration ‘for the same dead person.’”
The Secretary of State’s Office said a Cherokee County resident also received a voter registration solicitation from The New Georgia Project for his spouse, who is ineligible to vote. “A third complaint said The New Georgia Project sent a voter registration solicitation to his daughter who is not registered to vote in Georgia and had not lived in a different state for five years,” the state office said. “A fourth individual reported receiving a ‘package of postcards’ at her home in New York City from The New Georgia Project encouraging people to register to vote in the Georgia Senate runoffs.”
The New Georgia Project called Raffensperger’s claims “tired and false.” “More than one million Georgians have registered to vote since the 2018 voter registration deadline, and over 846,000 have requested an absentee ballot for the upcoming runoff election on January 5th,” the nonprofit said. “The New Georgia Project will continue its mission to register eligible voters in advance of the December 7th deadline, so that Georgians can have their voices heard at the polls and freely and fairly cast their ballots for those who would represent them.”
I would have hoped Raffensperger’s quest to right election wrongs would have started last January, directly following unchecked voter suppression efforts believed to have cost Abrams the gubernatorial election against then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp won by about 55,000 votes in an election he refused to recuse himself from overseeing. When Raffensperger took office in January 2019, he just kept announcing investigations, none of which centered on Gov. Kemp.
As secretary of state, this man allowed an estimated 107,000 Georgia residents to be purged from voter rolls simply for failing to vote in past elections, according to a report by the nonprofit American Public Media. And that’s only 15% of the nearly 700,000 total voters purged from rolls before the gubernatorial election.
Kemp also allowed more than 200 polling places across the state to be shut down, mostly in poor communities of color. It led to an estimated 54,000 to 85,000 voters prevented from casting ballots, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
And if that wasn’t enough proof of the governor’s racist efforts to suppress the Black vote, he put 53,000 voter registrations of mostly Black voters “in electoral limbo” last October, The Washington Post reported. “The move was the result of an ‘exact match’ policy in which even a single digit or a misplaced hyphen could derail the registration,” the Post added.
Don’t, however, count on Raffensperger to do as much as bat an eye when claims of voter suppression efforts impact Black communities. Instead, he’s taken to threatening small grassroots organizations with the possibility of up to 20 years in prison, a felony racketeering charge, and a fine of up to $25,000 per count for mailers that rubbed unnamed accusers the wrong way.
Raffensperger detailed in a televised press conference an allegation that Operation New Voter Registration Georgia, an organization with a practically nonexistent digital footprint, encouraged “Emory students to register fraudulently to vote” in the runoffs by changing their residences to reflect where they live currently. Raffensperger also detailed claims that Vote Forward encouraged a long-deceased Alabama resident to vote and that the progressive organization America Votes sent two absentee ballots to someone who hasn’t lived in Georgia since July 1994.
Vote Forward emailed its statement to Daily Kos Thursday:
“Vote Forward empowers volunteers to send heartfelt, handwritten letters to encourage their fellow citizens to participate in our democracy. Writing letters has quickly become one of the most popular and effective grassroots voter contact tools this past year. More than 180K volunteers used Vote Forward to write more than 19 million letters to voters ahead of the 2020 elections. The letters our volunteers are mailing in advance of the January 5th special election are being sent only to Georgia addresses, not to any other state. These letters do not include registration applications and do not directly register anyone to vote. We rely on a third-party vendor for voter information and try to make sure this data is as accurate as possible. However, the data is imperfect and there are some inconsistencies that we can neither predict nor control. If any letter recipient has moved out of state or passed away, they will of course be unable to register to vote in Georgia, and the letter itself will have no effect.”
Sahil Mehrotra, the America Votes spokesperson, said in another email to Daily Kos the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office maintains the list of registered voters that America Votes used to mail absentee ballot applications. “The forms we send are valid, blank absentee ballot request forms like application mailings the Secretary of State sent voters in Georgia’s primary election, but not the general and runoff elections,” Mehrotra said. “We’re pleased that so many Georgians have already applied to vote by mail for the January runoff and will continue our work to make sure every voice is heard in January.”
I wish the secretary of state could honestly say the same.