The Jolt: Democrats seek review of changes to automatic voter registration

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Three Democratic members of Congress are seeking investigations into a sharp decrease in the number of Georgians automatically registered to vote through driver’s license offices, a response to reporting by the AJC.

U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux, Nikema Williams and Sanford Bishop said they have “extreme concerns” about decreases in automatic registration, according to letters sent Wednesday to Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“This steep decline raises serious questions regarding access to the ballot in this year’s election, including the possibility that voters may believe they are registered to vote but are not and are therefore unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” they wrote.

The number of Georgians who participated in the automatic registration program plunged from 79% in 2020 to 39% last year, the AJC’s Mark Niesse reported this week.

The decrease appears to have been caused by a change to a Department of Driver Services website in January 2021 that required voters to actively choose an option to register instead of signing them up by default with an option to decline.

The members of Congress requested an investigation, notification of voters whose registration information hasn’t been updated, and an ability for affected voters to cast provisional ballots for the May 24 primary.

Voters can check and update their registrations online through the state’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov.

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With less than two weeks before early voting, David Perdue is back on the air with an ad running statewide that blames Gov. Brian Kemp for a litany of national problems.

“Illegals flooding our border. Skyrocketing gas prices. Crippling inflation. The brink of war,” Perdue said in the 30-second ad. “Folks, that all happened right here when Brian Kemp sold us out and allowed radicals to steal the election.”

There was no “stolen” election; let’s start there. Multiple recounts showed that President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Georgia, and bipartisan election officials found no evidence of widespread fraud.

But the ad launched Thursday is another illustration of how Perdue’s campaign not only hinges on Trump’s endorsement but also on his embrace of the conspiracy theory that the election was rigged – and that Kemp was complicit.

Down double-digits in the polls, Perdue is intensifying his attacks on the incumbent in search of more traction ahead of the May 24 primary. His best bet is forcing Kemp into an unpredictable runoff.

With limited financial resources – Perdue reported less than $1 million in his account in his latest disclosure – the Republican is making a big bet on far-right messaging in hopes of swaying the race. Ad buyers say he’s bought $320,000 worth of airtime; Perdue’s campaign says that will grow to roughly $500,000.

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

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

Your insiders have seen a lot, but we’ve never seen anything quite like this.

State Rep. Trey Kelley’s estranged wife Amy is backing his GOP primary rival Scott Richards in the May 24 vote. In a letter sent to residents of his Cedartown-based district and obtained by your Insiders, Amy discloses several deeply personal problems in their relationship.

“It’s very heartbreaking to tell you these details because I loved Trey. My family loved Trey. We all showed forgiveness and grace and stood by Trey during life storms. I devoted my entire life to him and was his biggest cheerleader,” she wrote.

“I continued to cling-on to hope and my faith that he would become a better man eventually, but it just got worse.”

Kelley stepped down from his role as the House Majority Whip last year as he was facing a misdemeanor charge after a fatal hit-and-run accident. A judge ultimately ruled that his failure to call 911 in response to the crash wasn’t reckless conduct.

Amy Kelley confirmed that she wrote the letter about her divorce, which she initiated in May 2021, but didn’t comment further. Trey Kelley declined to comment.

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After Gov. Brian Kemp aired an ad touting the two-year anniversary of his decision to reopen Georgia’s economy, Democrat Stacey Abrams issued scathing criticism of how he handled that controversial decision.

Abrams told MalaniKai on WSB radio’s “Word on the Street” program that she would have worked with local governments and health agencies to “think about all of Georgia” rather than focus on the most privileged.

Said Abrams:

“I believe that it is always important to think about everyone. And we know that Brian Kemp didn’t involve workers in the conversation. We’ve got a lot of folks who never had the choice about whether to go back to work or not. They were forced to do so because of his order. They didn’t have PPE when they got back to work. These are workers who often don’t have health insurance. And so, the most vulnerable people in our state, the people who often have the most inflexible jobs, didn’t have the support they needed.”

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Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the election projection website, downgraded U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop’s district from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic.”

The shift was among 11 changes announced this week, all indicating Republicans’ improving chances of winning these races. Crystal Ball writes that the five new “likely Democratic” seats all have credible GOP candidates that are raising enough money to be competitive in the fall.

“In a Republican wave scenario, these are the kinds of districts that could get swept up: places where Biden won between 53%-55% of the vote that are clearly more Democratic than the nation as a whole, but not so much more Democratic that Republicans couldn’t win in a good environment,” the report says.

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Herschel Walker’s Senate GOP rivals are running out of time to block the frontrunner from an outright win in the May 24 primary. But former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler contends he’s the best candidate to pull it off.

With far more cash on hand than any of the other Never Walker contenders, Saddler is ready to unload the $2 million left in the bank on a new wave of TV ads for Fox News and outlets. He also made a heady prediction.

“Walker is not going to clear 50%. These next 34 days will be very difficult for him,” he said in an interview.

“I think it’s going to be a very difficult final stretch for Herschel Walker. And the five of us will all be pulling votes away from him. He’s on his way there already – faster than I expected – and we’ll slide into No. 2.”

And if Saddler makes a runoff?

“That No. 1 position in the runoff is cursed. It truly is,” said Saddler. “We’re exactly where we want to be. And in a head-to-head, his celebrity becomes my biggest asset. ‘Who is this guy who just brought Herschel Walker into a runoff?’ In that head to head, I’m betting on me.”

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On a similar note, Herschel Walker spoke to a Hall County GOP women’s group over the weekend where he was asked how he would help secure rural infrastructure investments.

He spoke of “a lot of grants out there that they don’t even know exist because they don’t have someone to represent them in Washington.”

Then he asked: “Why don’t we combine counties together so we can pay for that one person that can look for all those grants, look for all those things coming down, that represent those rural areas now they could become like the big areas as well.”

Although he seemed to be advocating for infrastructure spending from Washington, Walker has opposed the bipartisan infrastructure bill. You can watch the clip here.

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Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Charlie Bailey is hitting the TV airwaves today, releasing his first campaign ad of the season and putting half a million dollars behind the spot.

The 30-second ad – narrated by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who was an early endorser – lays out Bailey’s background, growing up on his family’s farm in Harris County to his work as an assistant district attorney in Fulton County and as a trial attorney. The ad was released today as candidates are a little more than a month away from the primary election, the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu reports.

Bailey, who was the Democratic candidate for attorney general four years ago, is facing eight other Democrats in the crowded primary race vying to replace outgoing Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Four Republicans and a Libertarian candidate are also in the race.

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is putting on the hard sell for his former lawyer’s son, Jake Evans, to win the 6th Congressional District that Gingrich used to represent.

During an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show Wednesday, he said Evans, “will be a leader for the whole country.”

Hannity is on board for Evans. “He’s a Make-America-Great-Again-save-America conservative,” he said.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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