The Jolt: What we know, and don’t know, about double-voting in Georgia

September 8, 2020 Atlanta: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 that 1,000 Georgians voted twice in the state’s June 9 primary, a felony that he said will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law during a press conference at Liberty Plaza across from the Georgia State Capitol. These voters returned absentee ballots and then also showed up to vote on election day June 9, Raffensperger said. County election officials are able to stop double-voting most of the time, but they weren’t able to catch everyone. “A double voter knows exactly what they’re doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law,” Raffensperger said. “Those that make the choice to game the system are breaking the law. And as secretary of state, I will not tolerate it.” Double-voting didn’t change the outcome of any races in the primary, Raffensperger said. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

We know a little, but not enough, about Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s assertion that 1,000 or so people double-voted during the June 9 primary. Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse tells us that:

-- About 60% of the double-voters requested Democratic ballots, while the remaining 40% used Republican ballots. This is important, given that Raffensperger’s Tuesday press conference is already being used as an argument against voting by mail. Just before midnight Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted out a video clip of Fox News' Sean Hannity adding Georgia to his list of states indulging in voter fraud. (And yes, Trump has twice suggested that voters test the integrity of state election systems by voting by mail -- then showing up at the polls to vote in person.)

-- The alleged double-votes were spread among 100 counties amounting to about 0.09% of the 1.15 million absentee ballots cast in the primary. No election outcomes were affected.

-- The secretary of state said he assumes that all double-vote cast were deliberate. “A double-voter knows exactly what they’re doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law,” Raffensperger said. “Those that make the choice to game the system are breaking the law. And as secretary of state, I will not tolerate it.”

How the secretary of state can be so sure of this, we don’t know. The AJC’s Neisse points out that voters are allowed to cancel their absentee ballots and then vote at polling places as long as their ballots haven’t yet been received by election officials. It’s unclear whether the voters under investigation attempted to do so.

Casting multiple votes is a felony. Intent will be a major factor in any prosecution of individuals. A confusing and often inexact electoral bureaucracy is a likely defense.

This is also a situation in which Raffensperger might bear a heavier prosecutorial burden because of his predecessor’s decision to use the secretary of state’s investigatory powers to make a baseless claim -- only days before the 2018 vote -- that the Democratic Party of Georgia illegally tampered with a state voter database.

And so it was not a surprise that on Tuesday evening, a press release arrived that included this:

“The ACLU of Georgia is at the forefront of protecting everyone’s sacred right to vote. We want every Georgia citizen to know that if you are being threatened with prosecution for exercising your right to vote, please contact us immediately at acluga.org/help” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.

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Georgia voters could begin receiving absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election by late next week.

We do know that one double-vote was cast in Long County – by Hamilton Evans of Ludowici, who had already filled out and mailed in an absentee ballot. From the WAGA-TV website:

While waiting for his wife at this voting precinct, he says a volunteer asked for his ID and gave him a ballot.

Evans voted again and immediately left to tell the sheriff why he voted twice.

“The reason I done that was just to prove a point. It’s not set upright. If I did it, how many other people did it,” said Evans.

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Nearly a month later, one Democratic primary runoff has yet to be settled. So far as we know, the Savannah-based contest for House District 163 is the first hand recount involving the state’s new electronic voting machines – which produce a paper trail. Derek Mallow currently leads Anne Allen Wesrbrook by a smidgen, out of 5,338 ballots cast.

Westbrook called on Tuesday to describe her experience:

"On Election Night, I was down 18 votes. Our board of elections released an intermediate number three days later that had me down 52 votes and outside the margin for a recount.

“Then on Aug. 20, they certified another number, which was 20 votes. They certified it very quickly, without any explanation of why ballots showed up in the intermediate number and then disappeared again in the final number.”

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The hand recount started last Wednesday. The board declared all discrepancies reconciled Tuesday morning, Westbrook said.

“I never went into this thinking that I was going to get a better outcome for myself, but I did really want to see how the sausage was made. It’s been all over the place,” the candidate said.

But it didn’t end there. On Tuesday evening, Westbrook sent us this text:

“Russell Bridges, our elections supervisor, has just called me and said a new population of absentee-by-mail votes has been discovered and has not been processed. I’m to have two counters there in the morning to count the newly discovered votes.”

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In today’s Marietta Daily Journal, Cobb County GOP chair Jason Shepherd has a stark message for his fellow Republicans:

If Chairman Mike Boyce and Republican Fitz Johnson are defeated, “then the Democrats control the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and they control the law enforcement in Cobb County. If they take the sheriff’s (office), they have the whole thing.”

Shepherd also warned that the Cobb Board of Education was one seat away from Democratic control.

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Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones of Lithonia and University of Georgia football icon Herschel Walker are featured in President Donald Trump’s new radio spots for urban markets.

Both Trump supporters — who also spoke at the Republican National Convention — tout the president’s economic agenda and knock his Democratic opponent. “Joe Biden has had 47 years to produce results. But he’s been all talk and no action,” said Jones.

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A key element of last month’s Republican National Convention was the contention that suburban American would be marked for extinction should Democrats take the White House. Specifically, it was alleged, zoning for single-family homes would be eliminated.

This isn’t the first time the topic has come up in GOP circles. Back in 2012, Republican members of the state Senate were summoned to a seminar held in Room 341 of the Capitol. The topic was an alleged conspiracy theory known as “Agenda 21.” And there was – and presumably, still is – video. From the AJC archives:

Better Georgia volunteer Seth Clark set up his camera in the open. For 52 minutes, until he was tossed out by staffers, Clark recorded [Senate Majority Leader Chip] Rogers and several other GOP state senators as they were told that rezoning, efforts to limit suburban sprawl and regional coordination are all part of a secret effort to deprive Americans of their property rights.

“Our own governments are doing this. Our own local city councils and county commissions --- they’re doing this,” said discussion leader Field Searcy, an ousted member of the Georgia Tea Party.

Searcy declared Agenda 21 has been pushed through a form of brainwashing called “the Delphi technique,” with the goal of leading "a targeted group of people to a pre-determined outcome.

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Stacey Abrams on Tuesday rolled out dozens of endorsements of legislative and local candidates, a list that primarily includes contenders in competitive races.

Among those not listed was Quentin Howell, the Democrat who is challenging state Rep. Rick Williams in a swingy Milledgeville district.

She also declined to pick a side in the four-candidate special election contest to succeed state Sen. Nikema Williams.

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Today is the premiere of Stacey Abrams’s documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy” about voting rights. It is airing in select theaters, including Atlanta’s Starlight Drive In, and will stream on Amazon starting Sept. 18.

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Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock’s latest TV ad invokes his experience as a 12-year-old of being falsely accused of stealing from a grocery store in Savannah.

Matt Lieberman, another Democrat in the race, released a digital spot this week mocking Republicans for their allegiance to President Donald Trump. A former educator, Lieberman said the fight between Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins reminds him of a “schoolyard squabble.”

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In endorsement news:

-- The National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative group for small employers, is backing Republican Karen Handel in her Sixth District congressional contest against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

-- The Brady PAC, a gun control group, has endorsed Democrat Nikema Williams’s bid to replace the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta in Congress.

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