‘Crowded and unclear.’ Georgia officials question lengthy 2024 GOP ballot

A top Georgia election official warned the state Republican Party that including two presidential candidates who have suspended their campaigns on the March 12 primary ballot will lead to voter confusion and the “possible disenfranchisement” of GOP voters.

Georgia GOP Chair Josh McKoon responded that he won’t withdraw the names of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and businessman Perry Johnson, citing their decisions to suspend but not end their campaigns and a vote by senior party officials to keep them on the ballot.

That triggered a reply-all response by former Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer: “Well done.” Shafer, a Donald Trump ally, is among the 15 remaining defendants charged in Fulton County’s election-interference case against the former president.

The exchange took place this month in a series of emails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a public records request. It comes amid tensions between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and fellow Republicans who have scrutinized and attacked his office.

It started after Charlene McGowan, Raffensperger’s general counsel, saw the announcement last week from the state GOP that 11 Republican hopefuls would be on the party’s primary ballot.

Along with Trump and other prominent contenders, the list included Johnson and Scott, who both recently suspended their campaigns but had earlier submitted paperwork to be included in the primary vote.

“The more names that appear on the ballot, the greater the risk that the ballot will appear crowded and unclear to voters,” McGowan wrote Nov. 15.

“Additionally, it increases the likelihood that voters will mistakenly vote for a candidate who has withdrawn, leading to possible disenfranchisement of Republican voters,” she added, saying that it will soon be too close to the election to remove names.

In a response a day later, McKoon cited a unanimous vote by the party’s executive committee on Nov. 12 to include their names on the ballot. He said the committee reconvened after Scott suspended his campaign and decided against removing his name.

Georgia GOP Chair Josh McKoon, left, has refused to remove the names of businessman Perry Johnson and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott from the party's March 12 presidential primary ballot. The two candidates have suspended their campaigns but have not officially ended them, and McKoon said the state party's executive committee voted not to remove their names from the ballot. McKoon added that he doesn't have the authority to remove their names. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

icon to expand image

Credit: Bob Andres

“Significantly, neither of these candidates have withdrawn their respective requests for ballot access,” McKoon wrote, adding he has no legal authority to overrule their decision under state law.

“Speaking only for myself, I trust the voters that select a Republican presidential preference primary ballot to make informed decisions regarding a vote for the candidate of their choice,” McKoon wrote.

A few hours after McKoon sent his email, Shafer — who was apparently blind-copied on the exchange — sent his congratulatory response. He has maintained close ties to the state GOP, which has agreed to help cover his legal fees.

Why it matters

A crowded ballot could aid Trump, the GOP front-runner who enjoys significant leads in most state and national polls.

Trump’s name appeared first on the sample ballot submitted by the state GOP, party officials say, because he was the first to submit his paperwork. But state law indicates the names of the candidates will be in alphabetical order on the March 12 ballot.

Georgia GOP officials have warred with Raffensperger since 2020, when Trump and his allies blamed the Republican for Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia — and accused him of political treachery for refusing the losing candidate’s demand to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces the date of Georgia’s 2024 presidential primary as March 12.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

And many of the state party’s leaders are fiercely loyal to Trump, even as Raffensperger and other Republicans such as Gov. Brian Kemp have steered clear of the former president.

Shafer, who was the party’s chair during that election, and his allies heaped scorn on Raffensperger in a report that blamed “foolish settlements and feckless ‘emergency’ rules” that led the GOP to file litigation to “force him to obey the law and do his job.”

Left unmentioned was the fact that Raffensperger and other officials found no evidence of widespread irregularities. Three tallies of the results confirmed Biden’s victory, an audit of absentee ballot signatures found no cases of fraud, and pro-Trump lawsuits were dismissed in the courts.

About the Author