Georgia releases thousands of pages of election records

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Georgia secretary of state’s office has released thousands of pages of election documents ahead of a Wednesday hearing in an open records lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, the government watchdog group American Oversight says Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office did not respond to dozens of requests for election records in recent months. After a judge scheduled Wednesday’s hearing, Raffensperger’s office released documents in response to many of the group’s requests.

The secretary of state’s office “works diligently to give all media unprecedented access to documents they need for research or stories,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said.

“If we made an error, we are happy to correct it and do so quickly,” Fuchs said Tuesday. “Thank you to American Oversight for bringing this to our attention. It has been corrected.”

American Oversight welcomed the release of the documents, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway has canceled Wednesday’s hearing. The lawsuit is still pending.

“I think the secretary of state’s office got caught with a serious record of obstruction on its hands, and they scrambled to respond,” American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers said.

American Oversight bills itself as a nonpartisan ethics watchdog investigating voter suppression. In the lawsuit, filed earlier this month, it said it had filed 61 requests for public records with the secretary of state over the past 19 months. It said the office had produced records in response to only three of those requests.

The lawsuit focused on what it called the secretary of state’s “inadequate” response to 30 of those requests.

It said the agency had stopped responding to American Oversight’s queries about the pending requests — even after the group paid $904.30 in retrieval fees to process eight of the requests. The lawsuit contends the secretary of state’s office violated the Georgia Open Records Act, which requires government records to be made available for public inspection.

In a recent statement on the lawsuit, Raffensperger’s office said it takes its obligations under the law seriously, but it has been inundated with more than 1,000 records requests so far this year. It also cited turnover among its open records staff and said American Oversight had not accepted estimated charges to process the requests until months after initial time and cost estimates were provided.

American Oversight sought an injunction requiring Raffensperger’s office to comply with the open records law. Last week Dunaway scheduled a hearing in the case for Wednesday.

But on Friday the secretary of state’s office turned over thousands of pages of documents sought by American Oversight. Among other things, they are related to a state voter fraud task force, election preparedness and communications with political campaigns. The group has posted them on its website.

Evers said American Oversight continues to negotiate the release of additional documents.

“It should not be necessary to file a lawsuit,” he said. “It should not be necessary to wait almost a year to get responses.”