After a primary and primary runoff, a general election and another runoff, it looks like — with the exception of a state House District race in North Georgia where the difference Tuesday was only three votes — that an end can finally be called on the 2018 campaign season.
It won’t, however, put a halt to talk about voting.
First, 12 lawsuits sprinkled across federal and superior courts still need to be resolved involving voting rights, voting machines and registration processes. While the counting was still going on, judges forced the state to make a number of accommodations concerning absentee and provisional ballots.
This march through jurisprudence will certainly find a path through the legislative session that begins Jan. 14.
Sure to come up will be talk, at least, about replacing the state’s 16-year-old voting machines.
Republicans and Democrats seem to agree it has to be done, and that a necessary element is creating a paper trail that currently doesn’t exist to audit votes. But there’s plenty of squabbling about what should take their place.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur says lawmakers better settle on something quickly if it’s to be in place in time for the 2020 presidential election.
“For us to have new machines in 2020, we have to budget for it this year,” she said.
But they won’t want to act rashly. Estimates on a new system start at $20 million and go beyond $100 million.
Democrats tend to favor an optical scan system that would use hand-marked paper ballots. But Brad Raffensperger, the Republican who won Tuesday’s runoff for secretary of state, making him the state’s top election official when he takes office in January, supports the use of touchscreen machines that would print ballots.
Raffensperger also vows to defend the broad voter registration purges and strict requirements for absentee balloting that his predecessor, Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, put in place. Democrats will likely fight efforts to limit voter access after leveling numerous accusations during the campaign that the purges were meant to deny Georgia residents, particularly the poor and minorities, their right to cast ballots.
Kemp conducted the purges under a state statute approved in 1994, when Democrats controlled the Legislature. But he stepped it up through policy guidelines, knocking 1.4 million people off Georgia’s voting rolls between 2012 and this year.
Oliver, the ranking Democrat on the Governmental Affairs Committee, which would handle voting legislation, said Republicans could try to turn those Kemp policies into state law in the coming session.
Raffensperger said the purges are necessary for the state to “keep the voter list up to date so it’s clean, fresh and accurate.” Otherwise, he said, “I think this is a recipe for open doors for voter fraud.”
Oliver doesn’t buy it.
“The platitudes they’ve offered about safe and secure voting are really meaningless to me,” she said. “What do they really want? And can we have a bipartisan discussion?”
Oliver sees a need to come together.
“I think we’re in a serious spot right now. I think the voters do not trust our election system,” she said. “I think there’s good reason that federal judges and the voters didn’t trust our election system. We need to make corrections.”
Busy Brian: It’s still more than a month before he takes office, but Kemp got busy selling Georgia to businesses during a Republican Governors Association event in Arizona.
The Washington Post reported that Kemp launched a “charm offensive” on Fortune 500 executives who attended the meeting.
Kemp’s new-face status made him one of the stars of the meeting.
The Post reported that Bill Haslam, the RGA’s chairman and the outgoing governor of Tennessee, asked Kemp “what he learned from the bitter race” against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
“You just need to be who you are,” Kemp said. “The national media was making fun of my ‘fake Southern drawl,’ and it is obviously not fake.”
Testify: Kemp may want to keep his suitcase handy. A trip to Washington could be coming up.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who will soon have subpoena powers when he becomes chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told The Huffington Post that he’s interested in calling Kemp to testify about claims of voter suppression.
Cummings said he wants Kemp to “explain to us why is it fair for wanting to be secretary of state and be running (for governor),” not exactly a new question for the governor-elect.
2020 vision or 2022 plans? It’s possible some may not know that Abrams has a side gig as a romance novelist, but at a recent stop in California she came off sounding more like a self-help guru.
Speaking at the TedWomen 2018 talk in Palm Springs — in her first public speech since ending this year’s bid to become the nation’s first female African-American governor — Abrams told members in the audience to ask themselves three questions about their goals: What do I want? Why do I want it? How do I get it?
Like any good lawyer, Abrams kept true to a rule of the game: Don’t ask a question unless you already know the answer.
What does she want? “Justice, because poverty is immoral and a stain on our nation.”
Why does she want it? It should be something that “doesn’t allow you to sleep at night unless you’re dreaming about it.”
Her eyes seemed open to the challenges in how to get it.
“I am moving forward knowing what is in my past. I know the obstacles they have for me,” Abrams said. “I’m fairly certain they’re energizing and creating new obstacles now.”
And then she threw in a tad of ambiguity.
“They’ve got four years to figure it out,” she said. “Maybe two.”
Four years could mean another run against Brian Kemp for the governorship or even a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Johnny Isakson.
But if it’s two, there’s the possibility of a faceoff with U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is already working toward re-election.
Security and a rebuke: A Georgia Senate study committee looking at school safety recommended placing a greater emphasis on mental health, improving data sharing and increasing training for employees to detect signs of an attack.
The committee’s report, released in mid-November, also reprimanded the news media for what it described as sensationalism in its reporting on school shootings.
“While the Committee highly values the American Institution of a Free Press,” the report states, “it believes that the Media have acted extremely irresponsibly in the style of reporting used in the wake of tragedies on school campuses.
“The nearly obsessive coverage of school shooters’ personalities, backgrounds, motives, manifestos and histories is no doubt a factor in encouraging potential attackers to perform future ‘copy-cat’ attacks.”
Now he’s a fan: The farm bill has won the support of U.S. Rep. David Scott now that it includes funding for one of his biggest political priorities: an agricultural scholarship for 19 historically black colleges and universities.
Back in May, the Atlanta Democrat blasted House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and what he called a “racist” bill for omitting $95 million in funding for the scholarship.
Scott then worked with David Perdue, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to insert the funding in that chamber’s version of the farm bill.
From there, the scholarship — which would provide $1 million a year for five years to HBCU land grant universities, including Georgia’s Fort Valley State — made it into the House-Senate compromise bill.
“The money’s in the bill,” Scott said. “The language is in the bill.”
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also appears ready to back the bill, according to the farm-oriented newsletter Agri-Pulse, even though it doesn’t include the work requirements he and other conservatives sought for receiving aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The newsletter said the former Georgia governor had indicated he would advise President Donald Trump to sign the bill.
That’s not to say he’s given up on the work requirements.
Politico reports that Perdue will now try to use regulation to do what couldn’t be done through congressional action.
“Through regulation we’ll be able to please those conservatives who expected more work requirements in the farm bill, as I did, as President Trump did,” it quoted Perdue saying after an Illinois Farm Bureau event in Chicago.
Class act: First lady Sandra Deal hit a milestone, making her 1,000th school visit since moving into the Governor’s Mansion in 2011.
The former schoolteacher, as first lady, managed to visit all 159 of Georgia’s counties and its 181 public school districts, and she stayed on mission even though she underwent chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
That’s quite an attendance record.