State says 25 voter applications of 85,000 “confirmed” forgeries

Investigators backed away Wednesday from allegations a Democratic-backed group may have organized voter registration fraud, saying they can confirm 25 applications of more than 85,000 submitted to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Chief investigator Chris Harvey, however, said the office needed more information from the New Georgia Project to confirm no more fraudulent forms existed — already, it has identified another 26 applications as suspicious. The state has extended a deadline for the group to get investigations such information through Sept. 26.

Harvey spoke after the group’s leaders said Secretary of State Brian Kemp may be ignoring more than 51,000 unprocessed voter registration applications to instead pursue what they called “a witch hunt.”

With the state’s Oct. 6 registration deadline quickly approaching, state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta,and more than a dozen civil rights and religious leaders who support the New Georgia Project called on Kemp —the state’s top elections official — to focus on ensuring ballot access to thousands of new voters they and others have signed up this election year.

Speaking at the state Capitol ahead of the 3 p.m. special meeting of the Georgia Election Board, the leaders stood before 13 plastic bins filled with copies of applications they said have not been processed despite being turned in, in some cases, months ago.

“You don’t have to wear a hood or be a member of the Ku Klux Klan to be engaged in voter suppression,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. “Mr. Secretary of State, stop this dog and pony show, all these accusations and fear campaigning, and do the job you were [elected] to do.”

Abrams had originally identified 24 applications involved in the investigation of the group, which she founded in November. State officials, however, had repeatedly refused to give an exact number before Wednesday’s board meeting. National experts have said that it is not unusual to have some forms questioned, and that fraud most often is the work of individuals and not part of a coordinated effort by an organization.

Among the complaints Kemp said he has received were applications with inaccurate or false information, applications completed or “forged” after phone conversations between voters and representatives of the group, and voters being told they had to re-register to vote.

According to Abrams, the group contacted Kemp’s office several months ago about the voter drive and has been in a “working relationship” for the past three months. She has also said the organization flagged problems with some of the forms it had collected. State law requires those forms to be turned in to local county registrars anyway and vetted by the state office.

Harvey also said the number of counties included in the inquiry rose to 13 with the addition of Paulding County to a list that also includes Bartow, Butts, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Effingham, Gwinnett, Henry, Muscogee, Tatnall, Terrell and Toombs.