051820 Marietta: Voters wear masks and cast their ballots at least six feet apart the first day of early voting at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration on Monday afternoon, May 18, 2020, in Marietta.
Photo: Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

The Jolt: As Donald Trump warns of ‘voter fraud,’ Georgia’s secretary of state urges mail-in balloting

What might be considered common sense in one circumstance amounts to chutzpah in another.

Shortly after noon Wednesday, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent out a press release with this sage advice:

“Considering the health risks posed by COVID-19, Georgians should seriously consider submitting an absentee ballot by mail for the June 9 elections.

What made this daring was the morning Twitter message from the White House. We’ll let the Associated Press explain:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning appeared to threaten funding for Michigan amid a global health pandemic if state officials move ahead with plans to send absentee ballot applications to every state voter.

It was far from clear, however, if the president understood what he was talking about…

Trump’s post on Twitter about 7:50 a.m. appeared to suggest that Michigan was in the process of sending absentee ballots themselves — not the applications for people to ask for them if they wish to vote — to voters.

He wrote that it’s illegal for anyone to send unsolicited absentee ballots to voters and said that if it occurs, he will “ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”

Trump later corrected himself, acknowledging that ballot applications – not the ballots themselves – were being mailed out. And he ignored the fact that several Republican-controlled states have already done exactly what Michigan is doing now. In April, Raffensperger’s office mailed out 6.9 million applications to active voters.

There is little to no evidence that voter fraud is a major problem in the U.S., whether by mail or in person. Nonetheless, the president’s outburst reflects a deep GOP suspicion, which can be found in Georgia as well, that a shift to mail-in ballots brings a new dynamic into electoral politics that may prove to be a disadvantage to Republicans.

Which may be why Raffensperger, even as he urged balloting by mail today, also noted that “we understand the Georgia tradition of in-person voting and look forward to returning to normal in-person voting in future elections.”

There was an additional logistical purpose in the secretary of state’s call for voters to follow through by mail – especially those who have requested ballots, but are now considering a walk-in vote.

Voters who have requested absentee ballots but choose to vote in person need to cancel their absentee location at the polling location, adding an extra step that further slows down a voting process that -- because of the fear of contagion -- needs to be completed as quickly as possible, the secretary of state’s office noted.

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Nearly 415,000 Georgians have already voted in the June 9 primary election for president, Congress and the General Assembly, according to the AJC’s running tally. The figure includes both in-person balloting and mail-in votes.

Nearly 900,000 primary ballots were cast in 2016 – roughly two-thirds on the Republican side. Currently, GOP ballots account for 56% of the vote – which could portend a significant shift.

About 24,000, or 6%, of all ballots have been cast by new voters.

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Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is also pushing out this how-to video on absentee voting:

One note: The U.S. Postal Service has told us that they’ll deliver your ballot to your county elections office without postage -- and will charge the county for it later.

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We told you earlier this week that more than 1,000 Libertarian Party delegates will gather online this weekend to nominate their candidates for president and vice president.

It will be the first virtual nominating convention by a 50-state, national party – and could serve as a template for Republicans and Democrats, if the coronavirus hasn’t abated by mid-August. This morning, the New York Times has this:

[B]ehind the scenes, Republicans are looking at possible contingency plans, including limiting the number of people who descend on Charlotte to only delegates, and making alternate delegates stay home, according to interviews with a half-dozen Republicans close to the planning.

Mr. Trump, who was heavily involved in the staging of his last nominating convention, has even shown a new openness to participating in a scaled-down event. He has mused aloud to several aides about why the convention can’t simply be held in a hotel ballroom in Florida, given all of the health concerns and the fact that Florida is further along in reopening portions of the state.

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Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group, senses a gap in Georgia media coverage of U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign. 

Most TV outlets reported on Loeffler’s stock transactions ahead of the pandemic, wrapping mentions of her with other senators who traded during that period, including U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. Stations owned by the conservative Sinclair chain were notable exceptions. From the website:

An iQ media search for mentions of Burr between May 13 and 15 found 27 Georgia newscast segments covering the Burr news, 20 of which (74%) mentioned Loeffler. Three Sinclair-owned and -operated stations that broadcast in the state -- WTGS, WFXL, and WTWC -- failed to cover the Burr developments or even mention Loeffler over that time period. 

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s husband, financial magnate Jeff Sprecher, reported donating $1 million to a super PAC supporting President Donald Trump’s re-election. It was his largest ever financial contribution to a federal candidate on record, according to Politico.com.

The document disclosing the donation was filed early Wednesday morning. Roughly 12 hours later, the Loeffler campaign sent out this announcement:

This week, Senator Kelly Loeffler and her husband Jeff Sprecher donated $1 million to “Meals of Love,” a program that provides free, chef-prepared meals to Atlanta area families hit hardest by COVID-19.

As inaugural investors, Sen. Loeffler and Sprecher worked closely with local leaders to develop “Meals of Love,” a collaboration between Atlanta Public Schools and local nonprofit I’m a Father F1rst.

The program currently serves 1,400 meals per day to over 500 families with students who had previously relied on free school breakfast and lunch.

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Residents dependent on satellite TV in several northeast Georgia counties will now have access to Atlanta-based television stations, the Federal Communications Commission has confirmed.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, had been involved for years in the effort to overturn a requirement that local satellite TV operations were to rely on the nearest broadcasting stations for their news feeds -- meaning the Georgia viewers were being offered news generated in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Collins argued that Georgia residents were being deprived of crucial coronavirus-related news and other information. One county’s petition to tap Atlanta TV stations had already been granted, but TV stations in South Carolina filed appeals to retain three counties in their coverage area. The FCC affirmed the change on Wednesday, giving Collins a win.

“For decades, residents of Franklin, Hart, Stephens and Elbert counties have been deprived of critical news, weather, and sports television coverage,” he wrote in a statement. “But thanks to today’s ruling, orphan county residents in northeast Georgia will finally have access to the Georgia broadcasting they deserve.”

Needless to say, Collins is currently running for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Kelly Loeffler.

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Residents in Democratic state Rep. Erica Thomas’s Austell-based district were greeted with mailers reminding them of her confrontation at a grocery store last year. Click here for a refresher on the Express Lane controversy that dominated headlines for a few days last July. The campaign flier was sent out by Thomas’ opponent in the Democratic primary, Terry Alexis Cummings:

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In endorsement news:

-- Republican strategist Karl Rove is backing U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign to fill the remaining two years of retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. Rove was the operative behind George W. Bush’s presidential victory, and has overseen numerous campaigns since then. 

-- Two Democratic groups that recently joined forces, End Citizens United and Let America Vote, have endorsed Carolyn Bourdeaux in her Seventh District congressional race. End Citizens United is already backing the campaigns of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for U.S. Senate and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.

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All 14 members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation have signed onto a letter asking federal agencies to assist in the investigation of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. With Congress so deeply divided by partisanship, the letter reflects a rare unanimous initiative by Georgia’s 9 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

Their letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband asks that they “use all possible federal resources to achieve full justice, transparency, and accountability.” Arbery, 25, was shot dead while jogging near his Brunswick neighborhood. 

A father and son have been charged in Arbery’s death, but the arrests took several weeks, sparking broad criticism over how local prosecutors handled the case. State Attorney General Chris Carr has also invited the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the incident.

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson opened up to GPB News about his 25 years of sobriety and his treatment for hepatitis C. The congressman, who said he has beaten the viral disease that affected his liver and thyroid, also described experience with addiction and how it impacted his work in Congress. More from GPB:

“I have a long history of dealing with people who are in recovery and I understand their faith, their struggle,” Johnson said. “And I understand the need for them to have second, third and fourth chances; however long it takes. You know, I mean, we can't give up on people.”

Johnson said he’s made it a point to employ ex-offenders.

He is also fighting in Congress to make sure people with criminal records can access loans for small businesses. Last week, he signed on to cosponsor H.R.6894, which seeks to amend the Small Business Act to ensure that applicants with a criminal record are eligible for certain loans...

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