The Jolt: Warnock and Ossoff prep new voting bill to blunt Georgia’s election law

From left, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock wave after a campaign event with President-elect Joe Biden in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Their wins in runoff elections Tuesday gave Democrats control of the Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Caption
From left, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock wave after a campaign event with President-elect Joe Biden in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Their wins in runoff elections Tuesday gave Democrats control of the Senate. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Credit: wire

Credit: wire

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

The likely filibuster of the For the People Act Tuesday isn’t keeping U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff from introducing another federal election bill aimed at several portions of Georgia’s new election law that allow the state legislature to remove county election directors.

The two Georgia senators, along with U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams in the House, will introduce the Preventing Election Subversion Act Tuesday, which could be added as an amendment to the For the People Act Tuesday during debate on the larger bill.

The Warnock/ Ossoff proposal would require a “for cause” standard for a state board to suspend a local elections director, allow local officials to take their suspensions or removals to federal court for redress, and would make it a federal crime to threaten, intimidate or harass an election worker.

The bill would also create a minimum distance between election workers and poll observers and require a private citizen challenging another person’s eligibility to vote to also have personal knowledge of some reason that voter should be challenged.

All five pieces of the bill have their origins in Senate Bill 202 and similar bills in other states, which allow leeway to state officials and private citizens to challenge the operation of elections by county officials.

The legislation also comes as state and local officials prepare to square off ahead of upcoming elections in 2022, especially over how much power the state should have to remove county election officials between now and then.

During a visit to South Georgia earlier this month, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger opened the door to a future state takeover of Fulton county elections.

“No one wants to take over a county election board. But when you have a situation that’s gone on for 25 years, at some point, people say enough is enough, he said at the time.

In response, Fulton County Commission chairman Robb Pitts accused Raffensperger and “his comrades in this fight” of being “conspiracy theorists who promote the same Big Lie that he purportedly doesn’t believe.”

Although Warnock and Ossoff’s bill will likely spark Republican opposition, it has the support of top Democratic senators, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who oversees the committee that handles changes to elections law.

Ahead of introducing the bill, Warnock slammed state officials in Georgia and other Republican-led states as the reason his bill is necessary.

“The dangers of the voter suppression efforts we’re seeing in Georgia and across the nation are not theoretical, and we can’t allow power-hungry state actors to squeeze the people out of their own democracy by overruling the decisions of local election officials,” he said.

Republicans in the state have uniformly defended the new law, saying it makes it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.” They also point to some of Georgia’s existing elections procedures, including the state’s automatic voter registration, as proof that voting in Georgia is more accessible than many other states.

Obviously, the debate over elections has only just begun.

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Look for the U.S. Senate to take an initial vote on the federal election and voting bill known as the For the People Act late Tuesday afternoon. It is unlikely that 10 Republicans will be willing to side with the Democratic caucus in order to avoid a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer knows this. But he is bringing the bill for a vote anyway, saying it is important to get Republicans on the record so that the public can know where they stand on voting rights.

Meanwhile, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell is just as resolute in opposing the measure, saying there is no need for a new federal election law. So we don’t expect many surprises as far as the outcome of the vote, but there will undoubtedly be interesting debate in the process.

Our D.C. Insider Tia Mitchell will be on hand for it all, so be sure to follow her continuing coverage for the AJC.

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In the latest edition of “Herschel Walker, will he or won’t he?” Gov. Brian Kemp appeared on Fox & Friends Monday, ostensibly to talk about Atlanta’s spike in violent crime, but was eventually asked if he wants and expects Walker to enter the Senate race against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“He brings a lot to the table,” Kemp said. “Running statewide in this environment is very tough. You know, you gotta have it in your heart, you gotta have it in your gut, and that’s a decision he will have to make.”

Kemp also called Walker “a damn good Dawg,” and added that he, too, has no idea what the former UGA standout is planning. “You never know what he’s going to do,” Kemp said.

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A Henry County judge heard arguments Monday on whether to throw out the lawsuit calling for another review of Fulton County absentee ballots.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse reports that Superior Court Judge Brian Amero heard arguments from Fulton’s attorneys asking him to dismiss the case because the election is over and there isn’t proof anyone’s ballots were miscounted or right to vote was violated.

But the lawyers for the plaintiffs, supporters of former President Donald Trump, say inspecting 147,000 ballots would allow them to prove claims of fraud and mismanagement.

Amero didn’t indicate when he will rule on the case.

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Cobb and DeKalb counties had their legal fees covered after former President Donald Trump brought brought an election lawsuit against them that was ultimately withdrawn.

The Cobb County Board of Elections received $15,554 to cover its legal costs, the AJC’s David Wickert reports. DeKalb legal fees, which appeared to be around $6,000, were also reimbursed.

Trump attorney Randy Evans said that Trump had not paid the fees himself, but would not tell the AJC who did.

“There are no other details because there are no other details.” he said.

In Cobb County’s motion for reimbursement, county attorneys wrote:

“Given the number of failed lawsuits filed by the former president and his campaign, petitioners apparently believed that they could file their baseless and legally deficient actions with impunity, with no regard for the costs extracted from the taxpayers’ coffers or the consequences to the democratic foundations of our country.”

***

A white nationalist group is among the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit that hopes to force the city of Decatur to restore a Confederate monument in its central square, the AJC’s Tyler Estep reports.

It names Decatur city attorney Bryan Downs and all seven DeKalb County commissioners — including two who weren't in office when the obelisk was removed — as defendants, suggesting that officials took “collusive action" to circumvent state law protecting Confederate monuments.

Martin O'Toole, a spokesman for the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans, wrote in a Sunday afternoon Facebook post that putting the monument back up would “send a message around the state and nation vindicating our laws."

“Decatur and DeKalb [County's] actions have been cited in several venues as an example of a legitimate means by the ‘Cancel Culture' to censor history," wrote O'Toole, who is also a leader with the Charles Martel Society, an Atlanta-based white nationalist organization.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has convened a grand jury in Glynn County Monday, Sheriff Neal Jump told the Brunswick News.

More:

According to news outlets naming anonymous sources, the grand jury is focusing on former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson and her actions in the aftermath of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery shooting on Feb. 23, 2020.

Johnson lost the November election to new DA Keith Higgins due in large part to public ire over her handling of the case.

- The Brunswick News

***

Weeks after the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, Savannah’s largest hospital system suffered its own attack on Thursday. The effects are still being felt by doctors, patients, and staff, the Savannah Morning News reports:

For the fifth day, doctors, nurses and patients at St. Joseph's/Candler on Monday made do with computer backup procedures, including the use of paper records, after a cyberattack prompted a shut down of the hospitals' network Thursday.

Spokesman Scott Larson issued a statement around 2 p.m. Monday:

“While we continue to investigate the incident, we're working to get systems up and running as quickly and as safely as possible," Larson wrote.

- Savannah Morning News

Attacks on American infrastructure and critical operations like health care were among the topics President Joe Biden discussed with Russian president Vladimir Putin last week.

***

If the walls of the Varsity’s Athens outpost could talk, they’d have some political tales to tell after decades as a favorite stop for Georgia politicos barnstorming the state.

But after 90 years in business, Sunday was the last day of slaw dogs and what’ll-you-have’s at the Athens location.

Hope is alive if you can’t imagine going to a UGA ball game or downtown rally on an empty stomach.

In a Facebook post Monday, the Varsity wrote, “We are incredibly grateful for the many years of support from our customers in Athens and we look forward to serving them again soon at a new location in the Athens area.”

***

Congratulations are in order for our wildly talented colleagues Mark Niesse and Alyssa Pointer, who were both recognized for their outstanding coverage by the Atlanta Press Club Monday.

Jolt readers know Niesse as the AJC’s crack elections reporter, while Pointer is the photojournalist behind some of the paper’s most enduring images of the 2020 elections-- and much. much more.

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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.