Congressional panel seeks documents about Georgia’s voting practices

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on Capitol Hill.

Credit: 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images

Credit: 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images 2019 Getty Images

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on Capitol Hill.

The Democratic leaders of a U.S. House committee with subpoena power are requesting documents from senior Georgia officials about alleged voting irregularities in the state during the 2018 election.

Specifically, in letters to Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the officials from the House Oversight and Reform Committee are seeking documents related to Georgia's "exact match" law, the consolidation of polling sites in the state and long lines reported at the polls on Election Day.

"The Committee is particularly concerned by reports that Georgians faced unprecedented challenges with registering to vote and significant barriers to casting their votes during the 2018 election." House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin stated in the letters.

Related: A list of what the U.S. House oversight panel wants from Kemp, Raffensperger

Kemp accused the Democrats of “playing politics” while Congress has more important work to do, such as providing relief to South Georgia farmers and others who were slammed by Hurricane Michael. Other Republicans saw it as an effort to “deligitimize” Kemp’s victory because Democrats did not like the results of the 2018 election for governor.

The letters by Cummings and Raskin, a pair of lawmakers from Maryland, represent the Democratic House’s first attempt to investigate Georgia’s elections since Kemp pulled off a narrow victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams while also serving as the state’s top elections official last year.

The Democrats are giving Kemp and Raffensperger until March 20 to produce communications related to the state's practice of canceling registrations of voters who don't participate in elections for several years. About 1.4 million people have been removed from Georgia's voting rolls since 2012.

They also asked for documentation related to the tens of thousands of Georgians whose voter registration applications were placed on hold ahead of the midterms and the more than 200 precincts that have been closed since 2012. The Democrats singled out Randolph County, the rural, majority-black county that drew national headlines last summer over a plan that was eventually abandoned to close polling places.

“We’re going to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” Cummings told reporters Wednesday. “But this is America. People need to be able to vote and have their votes count.”

Cummings and Raskin said they may call Kemp and Raffensperger in to testify, depending on their responses.

Raffensperger confirmed he received the letter and said his office “looks forward to an open dialogue and a thorough process.”

Asked about the inquiry at a press conference, Kemp said Congress needed to instead focus on passing a Hurricane Michael recovery bill, which has been slowed in the Senate due to fighting over Puerto Rico funding.

“They need to quit playing politics up there,” Kemp said. “We have our farmers and our people in South and southwest Georgia that have been waiting on them to act.”

Cummings and Raskin requested information about voting machines that weren't used on Election Day, when several metro Atlanta precincts saw long lines. They inquired about the drop-off in votes in Georgia's race for lieutenant governor compared with other statewide contests, a result that prompted a lawsuit that was later dismissed.

The duo also asked about the Secretary of State Office's eleventh-hour investigation into the Democratic Party of Georgia for what the agency alleged was a failed attempt to hack the state's voter registration system. The office didn't produce any evidence supporting the allegations.

Kemp has drawn sustained criticism from Democrats nationally, who saw his refusal to step down as secretary of state while running for governor as a blatant conflict of interest. They slammed the state’s Republicans for limiting opportunities to vote, especially among low-income and minority Georgians who are more likely to have their registrations canceled.

During the campaign, Kemp pointed to others who stayed in the job while running for higher office and said county officials were in charge of counting and processing vote totals, not the secretary of state. And he has vehemently defended the state's strict voting laws, which he says have safeguarded against election fraud.

Democrats on Wednesday cheered the investigation.

"We are grateful for our congressional leaders' commitment to fully investigate the unprecedented challenges faced by Georgia voters in the 2018 election, perpetuated by Georgia Republicans' continued efforts to enact an insecure and unfair election system," said state Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Her comments were echoed by the head of Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group that Abrams started after the election.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, a veteran of the civil rights movement, said he was “proud to see someone else taking an interest in what’s been happening in Georgia” and added that it would be “good and fitting” for Kemp to testify before Congress.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, including the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, decried what they saw as attempts to relitigate the 2018 governor’s race.

“They’re trying to delegitimize Brian Kemp” because Democrats didn’t “like what happened,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“They don’t understand how they could get beat because Stacey was such a wonderful candidate,” Collins said. “No, if Stacey was a wonderful candidate, she might have been governor of Georgia.”

House Democrats have put voting issues at the center of their political platform. The chamber was slated Wednesday to begin floor consideration of a comprehensive bill overhauling federal election and ethics rules. The legislation includes a provision co-authored by Marietta Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath that would bar senior state election officials from participating in federal campaigns -- an indirect reference to Kemp.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the House committee that sent 81 letters earlier this week seeking information about President Donald Trump. The House Judiciary Committee sent the letters, not the Oversight Committee. The AJC regrets this error.

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