The Jolt: Allied with Libertarians, paper ballot advocates will keep an Election Day eye on voting machines

10/15/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia -  Fulton County residents use electronic voting machines to cast their ballotst on the floor of State Farm Arena during the fourth day of early voting in Georgia, Thursday, October 15, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
10/15/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Fulton County residents use electronic voting machines to cast their ballotst on the floor of State Farm Arena during the fourth day of early voting in Georgia, Thursday, October 15, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Some of the harshest critics of Georgia’s new voting machines will be front-row observers with statewide access to much of what happens on Election Day.

Marilyn Marks and 12 others associated with the Coalition for Good Governance, a group that has opposed touch-screen voting machines as vulnerable to manipulation, have been named official poll watchers for the Libertarian Party of Georgia.

“Show me another state party in any state which has appointed this kind of expertise as the eyes and ears of the voters in the conduct of the election,” wrote Marks, executive director of CGG, in an email to us.

Ryan Graham, chairman of the Libertarian Party, said a confluence of interests was at work.

“We’ve been in contact with Marilyn Marks for some time now. We’ve been proponents for paper ballots for a while -- we’re very suspicious of the voting machines, ourselves,” Graham said. “We had the means to get them in there, and so we did.”

Georgia’s Republican and Democratic parties appoint poll observers as well. Often, they are lawyers focused on guaranteeing individual voter access. Marks said Libertarian/CGG observers will be keeping an eye on the new technology.

Their list of watchers includes Dr. Virginia Rutledge Forney, former president of the Medical Association of Georgia, and Harri Hursti, a software security analyst from Finland who has publicly expressed skepticism about a recently ordered software update to each of the state’s nearly 34,000 new voting machines.

Hursti lives in New York, and Marks herself is a resident of Charlotte, N.C. But official poll watchers aren’t required to be Georgia residents.

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One of the odder questions during Monday’s Atlanta Press Club debate of U.S. Senate candidates, aired on GPB, came from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the chief GOP rival to Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler.

Loeffler, following the lead of President Donald Trump, has been a frequent critic of China as a source of the coronavirus pandemic. Collins has challenged Loeffler by noting that the New York Stock Exchange, owned by a company controlled by Loeffler and her husband, lists several Chinese corporations controlled by that country’s government and/or its communist party.

But when quizzing Loeffler, the Gainesville congressman went in this direction instead: “Do you still have the $56,000 portrait of Chairman Mao hanging in your foyer, as was seen on social media? Seems a little hypocritical, or maybe it’s just enlightening.”

Loeffler didn’t address her taste in art, but instead accused Collins of making a series of gender-oriented attacks.

“You’ve said I have no place here. You’ve said I’m only here because of my husband, that I should do something I’m qualified for,” Loeffler said. “But you know what? You’ve attacked my hair, my make-up, how I talk, my clothes, where I’m from. You’ve lied about me. You lie about my family. And let me tell you – here’s the truth. I’m here because I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”

Collins denied any personal mention “about her hair or anything else.”

But we remained curious about the Chairman.

When we asked the Collins campaign for evidence of the artwork, we were sent what we were told was a 2018 photo from Loeffler’s now-deleted Instagram account, of two women taking selfies – with what looked like an Andy Warhol painting or print of Mao Zedong in the background.

The Loeffler campaign implied that the photo was faked. “After being annihilated by Kelly in yesterday’s debate, I guess it’s not surprising that a photoshopped image is the best thing that Doug Collins has left in this campaign,” said Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson. “When you get beat that bad, anything you do after that probably seems like a good idea.”

You’ll note that his answer didn’t address the lingering question. Do Loeffler and/or her husband own a Mao Zedong portrait by Andy Warhol?

“No,” Lawson replied via email when pressed.

Which is a shame, because the work can easily be defended as marking a significant episode in Republican political history – President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Warhol was so inspired by the event that he churned out nearly 200 silkscreen paintings of Mao, in various shades of color.

Warhol is the fellow who rose to fame by painting Campbell Soup cans. The Mao portraits, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “may suggest a parallel between political propaganda and capitalist advertising.”

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A second debate featuring U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, scheduled for today on WTOC-TV in Savannah, has been postponed until Oct. 28.

Perdue’s campaign said Monday that the Republican incumbent would be busy casting a procedural vote on a renewal of economic subsidies for a coronavirus relief effort.

The proposal, involving the Paycheck Protection Program, is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled House.

The delay peeved Ossoff’s campaign, which hoped to press him on his mockery of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris' name during President Donald Trump’s rally in Macon last week.

Ossoff’s spokesman Miryam Lipper said it was “convenient for Senator Perdue that he won’t have to take hard questions tomorrow night about his ability to represent all Georgians.”

Perdue, meanwhile, lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for orchestrating a last-ditch attempt to adjourn for the year.

“Chuck Schumer’s attempt to adjourn the Senate before we even vote on much-needed COVID-19 relief is among the most shameful displays of partisanship I’ve ever seen,” he said.

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USAToday reports that the Government Accountability Office, an independent legislative agency, has agreed to investigate alleged political influence by the Trump administration over the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration. The request came from Democratic senators. The investigation is not expected to begin until January.

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In a piece with a dateline of Dalton, Ga., the New York Times today looks at the impact of the QAnon conspiracy phenomenon in the Republican party. It includes this passage:

Dr. [John] Cowan, a neurosurgeon, has seen up close the political impact of QAnon. He was trounced in the runoff by Marjorie Taylor Greene, 46, perhaps the most unabashed QAnon supporter running for Congress. She was caught on Facebook videos that surfaced earlier this year making offensive remarks about Black people, Jews and Muslims and openly courted the most extreme elements of the party’s base during her primary campaign, presenting herself as the most loyal Trump supporter in the race.

“It’s corrupting the debate in the Republican Party,” Dr. Cowan said of QAnon, "because you can’t separate yourself from the president in any way if you want to win.

“It really is the religion of Trump devotees.”

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One of Gov. Brian Kemp’s key staffers has departed to join the powerhouse McGuireWoods lobbying and consultancy firm. Stuart Wilkinson was the office’s deputy director of external affairs and was a member of Kemp’s transition team.

In a statement, Kemp said he’s confident that Wilkinson’s “experience, quick wit, and commitment to Georgia’s future will serve him well in the private sector.”

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In endorsement news: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn endorsed Rep. Doug Collins over Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a post early Tuesday.

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Carolyn Bourdeaux’s campaign has launched a new ad that credits her with strengthening the state budget during the Great Recession.

The ad presents an alternate viewpoint to a competing spot by a Republican PAC supporting her 7th Congressional District opponent, Rich McCormick. In that prior ad, Bourdeaux was accused of introducing furloughs and fee increases during that time.

In her new spot, Bourdeaux says she “worked with both parties and got Georgia’s economy back on track” during those belt-tightening years.

Both ads give Bourdeaux a bit too much credit. She was a staffer who provided guidance and recommendations to senators, the majority of whom were Republican. Those lawmakers were the ones negotiating and deciding the contents of a final budget deal.

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New Moral Majority, a group targeting Christian voters in swing states who sat things out in 2016, is running an ad in hopes of drumming up interest in Joe Biden. The ad featuring various faith leaders and titled “A Sermon to Heal America” is running on social media and is targeted in Georgia toward voters in rural areas.

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