Georgia investigates voter registration groups

Georgia officials say they’re investigating voter registration groups they allege have sent applications to people in other states ahead of the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said one group sent applications to people in New York City. Another tried to register a dead Alabama woman. Two other groups also sent improper applications, the secretary said.

Groups that were contacted denied the accusations.

It’s unclear whether anything illegal occurred — one of Raffensperger’s top deputies said the issues under investigation could be legitimate or accidental. But the secretary said the state must remain vigilant about potential voter fraud, even as he repeated assurances that claims of widespread fraud in the presidential election were baseless.

“These third-party (registration) groups have a responsibility to not encourage illegal voting,” Raffensperger said at a press conference at the Georgia Capitol. “If they do so, they will be held responsible.”

The investigations come as Georgia is on track to finish a third tally of votes in the presidential election by midnight Wednesday. Forty-three of Georgia’s 159 counties had completed their work by Monday afternoon.

They also come amid intense criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters about the conduct of the November general election in Georgia. Trump’s supporters have filed a series of lawsuits claiming voter fraud and other improprieties. So far, none of those claims has held up in court.

Many of Raffensperger’s fellow Georgia Republicans have joined in the criticism. And the state’s two Republican U.S. senators — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both locked in tight reelection battles in January runoffs — have called on the secretary to resign.

Gov. Brian Kemp also has come under increasing criticism. On Sunday, Trump said he regretted endorsing Kemp during the 2018 election, and he tweeted Monday that the “hapless” governor should use nonexistent “emergency powers” to overturn Georgia’s election results. In response, Kemp said state law “prohibits the governor from interfering in the election.”

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston stepped up his own pressure on Raffensperger on Monday. He repeated Republican calls for an audit of voter signatures ahead of the January runoff — an audit the secretary of state’s office says is not warranted.

The speaker also pledged to “identify proposals to improve our elections processes” in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, which begins a few days after the runoff election.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure votes are not stolen, cast fraudulently or plagued by administrative errors,” Ralston said. “Sadly, too many Georgians have concerns over the conduct of the recent general election.”

At his press conference, Raffensperger decried what he called the “massive amounts of misinformation being spread by dishonest actors.”

“There are those who exploit the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation and, frankly, they’re misleading the president as well, apparently,” he said.

Nonetheless, Raffensperger said his office is investigating more than 250 allegations involving this year’s elections. Among the claims are possible instances of dead people voting, double voting and out-of-state voting.

The secretary also said four voter registration groups are under investigation:

  • The group America Votes is facing allegations that it sent absentee ballot applications to people at addresses where they have not lived since 1994.

In a statement provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the group said it has mailed applications to the list of voters maintained by the secretary of state’s office.

“We’re pleased that so many Georgians have already applied to vote by mail this election and will continue our work to make sure every voice is heard in January,” the group said.

  • The group Vote Forward is accused of attempting to register a dead Alabama woman to vote in Georgia.

In a statement to the AJC, Vote Forward said it sends handwritten letters “to encourage their fellow citizens to participate in our democracy.” It said the letters for the January runoff are being sent only to Georgia addresses and “do not include registration applications and do not directly register anyone to vote.”

The group said it relies on a third-party vendor for voter information and tries to ensure its accuracy.

“However, the data is imperfect and there are some inconsistencies that we can neither predict nor control,” the group said. “If any letter recipient has moved out of state or passed away, they will of course be unable to register to vote in Georgia, and the letter itself will have no effect.”

  • The New Georgia Project — founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — faces accusations that it sent voter registration applications to people in New York City.

In a statement, the group said Raffensperger had “resurrected a tired and false claim against the New Georgia Project’s legitimate efforts to register eligible Georgians to participate in election.”

“As Georgians are turning out in record numbers to have their voices heard at the polls, the secretary of state is resorting to desperate attempts to smear law-abiding organizations and scare eligible Georgians from registering to vote in critical upcoming elections,” CEO Nse Ufot said. “We will not be deterred.”

  • The group Operation New Voter Registration Georgia faces allegations that it told college students in Georgia they could change their residency to here, then change it back to their home state after the election. Representatives of the group could not be reached for comment.

Raffensperger did not provide additional details of the allegations. Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said he assumes the groups will say the incidents were legitimate or accidental.

“But that’s why you investigate,” he said.

Sterling said Georgia voters have already requested nearly 948,000 absentee ballots for the Jan. 5 election — a total sure to rise. By comparison, some 1.3 million people cast absentee ballots in the November general election.

Some 1,040 ballots have already been returned and accepted, he said.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.