Investigation finds less double voting in Georgia than alleged

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced in September 2020 that 1,000 Georgians were suspected of voting twice in the state’s June primary that year. It now appears that about 300 voters cast two ballots in that election, almost always because of mistakes by confused voters and poll workers. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced in September 2020 that 1,000 Georgians were suspected of voting twice in the state’s June primary that year. It now appears that about 300 voters cast two ballots in that election, almost always because of mistakes by confused voters and poll workers. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Raffensperger had suspected fraud after 2020 primary

After the hectic 2020 Georgia primary, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger made a bombshell allegation from the steps of Liberty Plaza outside the Georgia Capitol that 1,000 people potentially voted twice.

A year and a half later, an investigation by his own office has found less double voting than he had suspected.

Most of Raffensperger’s allegation couldn’t be proved, the latest claim of voting fraud surrounding the 2020 election that fell short under scrutiny.

Unlike former President Donald Trump’s false claims about his election being stolen, investigators validated some of Raffensperger’s assertions of double voting.

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The secretary of state’s office disclosed preliminary findings of its double voting investigation in response to requests by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The investigation so far indicates about 300 voters cast two ballots in the June 2020 primary and August 2020 primary runoff, almost always because of mistakes by confused voters and poll workers. The number of double voters could rise because about 100 cases remain under investigation.

Investigators confirmed 22% of 1,339 suspected cases of double voting in the primary elections. The other 78% appear to have only voted once.

The additional votes didn’t change any election outcomes, and violators could face fines or prosecution. Three vote counts and dozens of investigations checked the 2020 elections in Georgia.

Most of the unsubstantiated double voting cases arose from a chaotic June primary, with an unprecedented number of absentee voters during the coronavirus pandemic, poll worker shortages, a new voting system and long lines.

Double voting allegations were rarer in the general election in November, with a handful of isolated cases verified by investigators.

Raffensperger said his investigation was justified based on election records that initially showed absentee and early voters had also cast ballots on election day, thwarting precautions meant to ensure only one vote per person.

“One case of double voting is too many,” Raffensperger said in a statement to the AJC. “At my own initiative, I launched an investigation into potential double-voters in the 2020 primaries and primary runoffs. Individuals who are found to have undermined the integrity of Georgia’s elections by casting more than one ballot in an election will be identified and prosecuted.”

A government accountability organization, American Oversight, said Raffensperger’s office knew from the start that most potential cases of double voting were unintentional.

American Oversight obtained an email from Raffensperger’s general counsel on the day of his announcement stating that people inadvertently voted twice or cast two ballots because they weren’t sure their mailed absentee ballots had been returned in time.

“Behind closed doors, the secretary of state’s senior staff was very clear about what had been true for a very long time: Voter fraud is exceptionally rare, and errors during voting happen frequently but not because of intent,” American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers said. “The secretary’s comments were deeply irresponsible and could suggest an intent to scare people away from voting.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (right) announced in September 2020 that 1,000 Georgians were suspected of voting twice in the state's June primary that year. Further investigation by Raffensperger's office has found that number highly inflated. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (right) announced in September 2020 that 1,000 Georgians were suspected of voting twice in the state's June primary that year. Further investigation by Raffensperger's office has found that number highly inflated. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (right) announced in September 2020 that 1,000 Georgians were suspected of voting twice in the state's June primary that year. Further investigation by Raffensperger's office has found that number highly inflated. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The secretary of state’s office provided several explanations for why so many people had previously appeared to have voted twice.

Some Georgians tried unsuccessfully to vote again because they were confused by constant calls, mail and texts telling them they hadn’t voted yet. In other cases, poll workers made mistakes when operating new voter check-in tablets called Poll Pads.

In prior double voting complaints heard by the State Election Board, elderly voters have said they forgot they had already voted, or voters said they returned to the polls to make sure their ballots would count.

The Poll Pads were supposed to alert election workers at polling places when a voter had already requested an absentee ballot, requiring them to cancel their mail-in ballot before being able to vote in person. That process sometimes broke down because of “human error” either by election officials at the polls or during absentee ballot processing, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Improvements to the Poll Pad interface prevented similar mistakes in elections following the June primary, the secretary of state’s office said.

A spokesman said the secretary of state’s office had a responsibility to be transparent with the public after it found evidence of potential double voting.

But Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group, said Raffensperger amplified voting mistakes to make them seem like evidence of fraud, creating mistrust in elections.

“The secretary of state is trying to have it both ways by fueling this dangerous environment of disinformation that we find ourselves in today,” said Esosa Osa, director of research and policy for Fair Fight Action. “Part of the intent of these narratives is to stifle participation, to make folks afraid, to make people think twice about expanding voter access.”

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The double voting allegation wasn’t the only time Raffensperger emphasized the potential for fraud while also asserting Georgia’s elections were secure and accurate, Osa said.

Raffensperger appointed an “Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force” in spring 2020, but it only met once and its members have said there wasn’t widespread voter fraud. He frequently calls for a constitutional amendment to ban noncitizen voting, even though allegations of noncitizen voting are rare and it’s already illegal in Georgia.

Election officials in Fulton County, which Raffenspenger’s office suspected of having the most double voters, said the secretary of state’s office hasn’t notified them of individuals who might have voted twice in the 2020 primary.

“Fulton County administered its elections process fairly and correctly. The number of votes for Fulton County is consistent with our share of voters statewide,” the county elections office said in a statement.

In DeKalb County, which had the second-highest number of potential double voters, a spokesman said election officials are researching allegations but couldn’t provide details.

One voter in Long County admitted voting twice in person. That voter, Hamilton Evans, has said he voted early and then again on election day to see what would happen. He was allowed to vote and then reported the issue to the sheriff’s office.

Double voting allegations weren’t limited to the 2020 primary election, but few other claims have been substantiated.

Of 129 people in the South Georgia region investigated for voting twice in the 2020 general election in November, the State Election Board in September found reason to believe that just four of them had actually done so.

An investigator reported to the board that those voters said they didn’t remember returning an absentee ballot or didn’t mean to break the law. The board referred those four cases to the attorney general’s office. Most of the other allegations were dismissed as data entry errors by poll workers.

When the secretary of state’s office completes its investigation of double voting, the cases will be presented to the State Election Board, which has the power to levy fines or forward cases to prosecutors. It’s unclear when the investigation will be finished.


Double voting probe

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office conducted an investigation into double voting after he announced that 1,000 voters potentially cast more than one ballot in the June 2020 primary or the August 2020 primary runoff.

Here’s a breakdown of its preliminary results:

  • 1,339 cases
  • 22% (or about 300) found double voting*
  • 78% showed only one vote had been cast

About 100 cases remain under investigation, so the numbers could change.

*Almost all the cases of double voting involved mistakes either by confused voters or poll workers.