Poll worker Brittni Nix waits to assist voters during special election voting at city hall to fill an empty city council seat on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Dacula. The voting happens to occur on a day that was supposed to be the test run for the state's new election system before coronavirus COVID-19 caused it to be called off.
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

The Jolt: More Republicans press for moving May 19 primary

A growing number of Republican officials want Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to delay the May 19 primary another month. He says the ball is in their court. 

“We have no legal authority to move this election - if you would like to move this election, it will take legislative action or an executive order from the governor,” Raffensperger said in a statement issued by his office last night.

“As we have said in detailed discussions with the House delegation last week, there is a limit to the options available within current law.” 

That means it’s up to House Speaker David Ralston, who has most loudly lobbied for the changes, or the state’s Republcian congressional delegation, whose members penned a letter Tuesday endorsing the move, to orchestrate the delay.

Summoning Georgia lawmakers back to the legislative session amid a coronavirus pandemic seems unlikely, particularly after the last emergency vote prompted the entire legislative branch to self quarantine. 

Which brings us to the latter option. 

Kemp, a former secretary of state, could use his authority, granted by the Legislature’s ratification earlier this month, to delay the vote and provide cover for Raffensperger. That power expires in the middle of this month, but could be renewed to cover the May 19 date. However, the governor has shown no support for moving the primary and sidestepped a question about it during an interview last week. 

Still, that could change. The list of supporters on Tuesday’s letter included U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., his hand-picked choice for the coveted seat, and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, one of his top allies in Congress.

And what do you know? He happens to have an in-person press conference Wednesday at the Capitol. Surely, a question or two will surface about the primary push. 

Democrats will surely want a say, too. Some were bristling late Tuesday at the thought of another delay for the presidential primary, which has already been rescheduled from March. 

There’s also the possibility that the state could lose delegates to the Democratic National Convention if the election is pushed beyond June 9, the delegate-selection deadline set by the DNC. Party officials said states forced to delay votes can seek an exemption.

Keep an eye on Wisconsin. That state is one of the few that has decided to press forward, with an April 7 presidential primary and local elections. From the Washington Post:

In Tuesday’s Wisconsin elections, more than 100 municipalities will not have enough poll workers to open a single voting location. Tens of thousands of voters who have flooded election offices with mail-ballot requests in recent days are at risk of not receiving them on time. And Sally Cohen, an elderly woman with kidney disease and asthma who is self-isolating in her apartment in Madison, isn’t sure she’ll be able to vote at all because of a state law requiring a witness to sign her ballot envelope.

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Another topic sure to emerge at Kemp’s press conference is his refusal to impose steeper restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

South Carolina became the latest state to take more drastic measures, with Gov. Henry McMaster issuing a sweeping order Tuesday that closed down all nonessential businesses through mid-April. 

That could ratchet up the pressure on Kemp to take more sweeping action. Or he could take the approach of another Southern governor who has balked at shutting down broader parts of the state.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Tuesday he had no plans to issue a statewide stay-at-home order - in part because the White House coronavirus task force hadn’t urged him to do so. From the Tampa Bay Times:

“The task force has not recommended that to me. If they do, obviously that would be something that carries a lot of weight with me. If any of those task force folks tell me that we should do X, Y or Z, of course we’re going to consider it. But nobody has said that to me thus far.” 

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Already posted: 

-- Our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu reports that, more than three weeks after Gov. Brian Kemp ordered state employees who could to work from home, more than 10,000 still head into their places of business each day.

-- The state will deploy more than 100 Georgia National Guardsmen to assisted-living facilities and nursing homes with coronavirus cases to help limit exposure to the disease among the most vulnerable residents, our AJC colleague Brad Schrade reports.

More than 30 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have residents who tested positive, according to an estimate Tuesday by the Georgia Health Care Association, the state’s largest long-term care trade association.

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has filed new financial disclosures, and the contents are likely to fuel allegations that she used private information from U.S. Senate briefings on the coronavirus to guide transactions.

Your Washington Insider teamed up with investigative reporter Chris Joyner, and they got a first look at these filings:

The largest transactions — and the most politically problematic — involve $18.7 million in sales of Intercontinental Exchange stock in three separate deals dated Feb. 26 and March 11. Loeffler is a former executive with ICE, and her husband, Jeff Sprecher, is the CEO of the company, which owns the New York Stock Exchange among other financial marketplaces.

During the same time period reflected on reports filed late Tuesday, the couple also sold shares in retail stores such as Lululemon and T.J. Maxx and invested in a company that makes COVID-19 protective garments. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution got the first look at these reports, covering mid-February through mid-March and shedding new light on Loeffler’s financial transactions during the pandemic. Previous reports — which have put Loeffler in the national spotlight — covered her trading during the first six weeks of 2020.

Loeffler provided the numbers to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and they were more exact than what would appear on a federal campaign finance disclosure.

The newer stock sales came as the broader markets were diving, and they are likely to fuel allegations that Georgia’s new senator used her insider knowledge about the severity of the pandemic to dump holdings while simultaneously releasing statements about the strength of the American economy and complimenting President Donald Trump on his response. The STOCK Act, a law that went into effect in 2012, makes it illegal for senators to use inside information for financial gain.

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Georgia lawmakers are part of a bipartisan push to get federal officials to rush coronavirus funding to rural hospitals.

Forty U.S. senators and 81 U.S. House members, including Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, are asking Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to target rural health care providers with cash from the recently passed $2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

“We are hearing from rural hospitals from across the country that have only days left of cash-on-hand — money needed for payroll and supplies,” the members of Congress say in their letter to Azar.

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Just in time for a shelter-in-place afternoon, Ralph Reed’s new tome has arrived. “For God and Country: The Christian Case for Trump” is an argument that “evangelicals have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back Trump due to the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left.”

The hardcover price is $19.29, a figure sure to fascinate numerologists.

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