Perdue calls for new election police unit in Georgia

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue promised Thursday to establish a new police force to investigate election fraud if elected governor of Georgia, marking the Republican’s latest attempt to energize Donald Trump supporters by channeling GOP fury over the 2020 results.

Perdue also said he’d require election results to be “independently audited” before they’re certified, taking a swipe at Gov. Brian Kemp for not delaying the process after the 2020 elections. The governor was bound by law to certify the results, which ended with a slim victory for Democrat Joe Biden over Trump.

The proposal to create an “Election Law Enforcement Division” in Georgia came the same week Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida unveiled a measure to establish a first-of-its-kind election police force that has infuriated voting rights advocates.

It’s among a string of proposals by Perdue that have put false claims of election fraud at the center of his primary challenge against Kemp. That approach helped Perdue win support from the former president, who vowed to defeat Kemp after he refused to illegally reverse his election defeat.

“Leave it to a 20-year career politician like Kemp to sit on his hands when we needed him most,” Perdue said Thursday. “He failed us, and Georgians lost confidence that their vote would count.”

State election officials have said there’s no indication of fraud after three ballot counts and multiple investigations. Pro-Trump lawsuits seeking to overturn the election were dismissed or withdrawn from courts. Biden defeated Trump by about 12,000 votes in Georgia.

Georgia already has election investigators who looked into hundreds of allegations, debunking almost all of them. Their findings refuted claims of counterfeit ballots, ballot stuffing, dead voters and mismatched signatures on absentee ballot envelopes.

Perdue, who opened his campaign by criticizing Kemp for failing to call a special session to overhaul election laws, said he wouldn’t have certified the state election if he had been governor. He also filed a lawsuit that mirrored debunked claims from a conspiracy theorist.

Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said the proposal amounted to an admission from Perdue that “his entire campaign is a lie.“

”His proposal recognizes that governors have no legal authority in the oversight, administration or investigation of elections under current state law and constitution,” he said.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in November. Abrams, who was narrowly defeated by Kemp in 2018, has mocked the GOP infighting.

It’s not immediately clear how the new police force would operate, but Perdue said it would be designed to investigate election crimes and leave Georgia voters assured that “only legal votes will be counted” and operate under the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The idea of a separate law enforcement unit devoted to investigating elections echoes a proposal by House Speaker David Ralston — and backed by Kemp in his budget plan — that would allow the GBI to probe allegations of fraud.

Ralston recently said if the GBI had taken the lead on investigations rather than the secretary of state’s office, there might not be so many questions about the validity of the election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has drawn the fury of many GOP activists and politicians for refusing Trump’s demands to overturn his defeat.

“I’m not sure if, in an environment we were caught up in this past year, that the secretary of state is the appropriate agency to investigate,” Ralston said. “The GBI brings a much higher degree of professionalism as well as independence, and I think that’s vital to this process.”

Ralston’s plan would give the GBI jurisdiction to investigate potential violations of election law without having to be invited by a local jurisdiction, which is required in most cases under current law.

He’s seeking $500,000 in the state budget to fund five GBI agents to handle election investigations. The GBI agents would be in addition to 23 investigators within the secretary of state’s office.

Currently, election investigators in the secretary of state’s office look into complaints and then present their findings to the State Election Board, which can then refer cases to the attorney general’s office and levy fines. As a statewide law enforcement agency, the GBI would have broader authority to pursue criminal investigations.

Perdue’s stance on elections isn’t the only way he’s trying to separate himself from Kemp.

The Republican, who was defeated by Jon Ossoff in last year’s U.S. Senate runoff, has pledged to eliminate the state income tax, backed legislation that would pave the way to Buckhead cityhood and criticized Kemp for not more aggressively rolling back gun regulations.