Audit: Georgia election spending was allowed, but some issues found

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said a state audit dispel allegations that his office inappropriately spent $30 million in federal election funds. The audit, however, found several flaws in spending procedures, including expenses on credit cards outside the state’s official purchasing card program. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said a state audit dispel allegations that his office inappropriately spent $30 million in federal election funds. The audit, however, found several flaws in spending procedures, including expenses on credit cards outside the state’s official purchasing card program. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Secretary of state’s expenses investigated after 2020 election

An audit released Friday found almost all of Georgia’s spending of $30 million in federal election funds was allowed, but the report questioned the secretary of state’s compliance with procurement rules, including an arrangement that increased the pay of the state’s voting system manager.

The secretary of state’s office used federal Help America Vote Act money for permitted purchases, including $10 million for public communications and advertising surrounding Georgia’s switch to a new voting system that combined touchscreens with printed paper ballots, according to the report from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts.

Federal funds appropriated for the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic also went toward items such as absentee ballot postage, ballot printing, masks and grants to local election offices.

However, the audit found several flaws in spending procedures.

Almost half of 192 grant transactions had at least one noncompliance issue, including expenses on credit cards outside the state’s official purchasing card program and $500,000 worth of public relations spending outside state contracting rules.

“While SOS spent HAVA funds on goods and services that were allowed, the method by which SOS purchased the goods and services did not always comply with state procurement guidance and/or state law,” the audit states.

The audit also said the secretary of state’s office might not have followed state law when its chief operating officer, Gabriel Sterling, quit his government job to become an independent contractor in charge of the rollout of Georgia’s new voting machines. The job change came with a pay increase from $114,000 annually including state benefits to $200,000 without benefits.

State employees aren’t permitted to conduct contract negotiations that result in higher pay, according to the audit.

“It is unclear why the employee did not perform the necessary project management services as a state employee rather than a contractor,” the audit said.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the audit should dispel allegations of inappropriate spending.

“My main goal has always been to uphold the integrity of Georgia’s elections,” Raffensperger said. “The audit requested by the Georgia Legislature demonstrated once and for all that my office used federal funds for appropriate purposes.”

The audit had been requested by House Speaker David Ralston and House Appropriations Chairman Terry England.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.


Georgia spending of federal election funds 2018-2021

$10.1 million: Communications, advertising, contractors

$5.9 million: Postage

$5.1 million: Ballot insertion, printing and mailing

$2.7 million: Masks and election administration

$2.5 million: Envelopes

$1.4 million: Grants to county election offices

$1.3 million: Printing services

$861,00: Computer software

$479,000: Consulting

Source: Georgia audit of secretary of state grant administration