Georgia attorney general seeks funding to cover election lawsuits

Chris Carr addresses reporters during a press conference. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Chris Carr addresses reporters during a press conference. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is asking state budget writers to approve an additional $200,000 to help the state defend itself against mounting elections lawsuits.

The money would pay for attorneys and legal costs associated with the rising expense of court cases, including one alleging that the state’s election laws create obstacles to voting and that voting machines aren’t secure.

“Recently our state’s election laws have become a central focus of litigation,” Carr told a House Appropriations subcommittee. “The fiscal impact that this litigation will have on the state in the coming months and years is significant.”

The legal claims include a sweeping federal lawsuit alleging that Georgia election officials inappropriately purged voter registrations, canceled absentee ballots, created long lines and failed to protect voting integrity. The lawsuit was filed by Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by allies of Democrat Stacey Abrams after she lost the 2018 election for governor to Republican Brian Kemp.

Another lawsuit contends that Georgia's voting machines and computerized election systems are vulnerable to tampering or malfunction. The litigation is asking a federal judge to order election officials to use paper ballots filled out by hand instead of its new $104 million touchscreen-and-printer voting system.

Gov. Brian Kemp's proposed budget would transfer nearly $200,000 from the secretary of state's office to the attorney general's budget for "legal services to support election litigation and cyber security" in fiscal 2020 and 2021.

The shuffling of money comes as Kemp has asked state agencies to cut spending by 4% in fiscal 2020 and 6% in fiscal 2021, which begins July 1.

Some of money transferred to the attorney general’s office would pay to add a lawyer to the team of attorneys that represents the state in election challenges.

“We are currently maximizing our internal capacity with elections lawsuits against the state, and there are more lawsuits coming our way this year and in the future,” Carr told lawmakers.

There currently are two attorneys that work “almost exclusively” on election lawsuits, an agency spokeswoman said. Other lawyers in the agency at times assist the attorney general’s office on those types of cases, she said. The government also funds outside attorneys to represent the state.

In the 2018 election cycle, there were 31 cases filed against the state. The 2019-2020 election cycle has spurred three lawsuits — all of which are still ongoing.

In all, Georgia is at the center of nine ongoing elections-related cases.

Carr said he only expects that number to climb in the coming year.

“As we head into an election season again this year, followed by redistricting and subsequent elections in the future, the department needs additional support in order to continue to handle this increased workload,” Carr said.