Voting groups call Georgia investigations empty partisan attacks

DeKalb elections board rejects challenges to 50K voter registrations

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DeKalb elections board rejects challenges to 50K voter registrations

In the thick of unsupported claims of fraud, Georgia’s election chief took aim at familiar targets, opening investigations into the New Georgia Project and similar organizations that sent mail to potential voters urging them to register and turn out.

More than two months later, the only evidence made public against the New Georgia Project is a tweet from a New Yorker who received a package of postcards telling Georgians how to register to vote online.

The postcards were intended for a volunteer who was to send them to Georgia residents, but they were delivered to the wrong address, said Nse Ufot, CEO for the New Georgia Project. She said these kinds of election mailings are normal and legal.

Ufot said the investigation is a “partisan attack” by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in response to pressure from President Donald Trump, who had complained that a recount was unfair and later asked him to find enough votes to change the outcome of November’s election. The New Georgia Project was founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams.

“Instead of pushing back against that disinformation, he decided to turn on voting rights organizations and dedicate press conferences and resources to casting aspersions on groups like ours,” Ufot said. “There isn’t anything to it. It’s designed to impugn our reputation and frame the awesome work that we’re doing to expand Georgia’s electorate as something nefarious and illegal, and it’s not.”

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Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, speaks during a Zoom call about her organization's lawsuit over Georgia's absentee ballot deadlines.

Credit: Mark Niesse

Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, speaks during a Zoom call about her organization's lawsuit over Georgia's absentee ballot deadlines.

Credit: Mark Niesse

Combined ShapeCaption
Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, speaks during a Zoom call about her organization's lawsuit over Georgia's absentee ballot deadlines.

Credit: Mark Niesse

Credit: Mark Niesse

While Raffensperger repeatedly said there wasn’t widespread fraud that could have put the election in doubt, Ufot said he used the law enforcement power of his office against voter groups.

No investigators have contacted the New Georgia Project or three other voter groups since Raffensperger announced the investigations Nov. 30, according to the organizations.

Raffensperger is investigating election mail sent to out-of-state addresses, and he has said he will stop groups that mislead individuals into trying to illegally register to vote. Only Georgia residents are allowed to vote, and Georgia residents who live elsewhere temporarily are legally entitled to vote absentee.

“Secretary Raffensperger is constantly working to maintain voter confidence in Georgia’s elections,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “It is telling that these groups are somehow outraged that we are asking them to stop activities that promote clear and unquestionable voter fraud.”

ExploreGeorgia officials overstated election investigations

This isn’t the first time the secretary of state’s office has started inquiries involving the New Georgia Project.

Before Raffensperger took office, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched investigations of forged signatures and incomplete forms by contractors for the New Georgia Project.

Several county election supervisors reported sloppy and inaccurate registration forms during the organization’s push to sign up hundreds of thousands of new voters, and Kemp said at the time that he needed to ensure only eligible voters were registering.

The State Election Board referred the case to the attorney general’s office in 2017, which never brought charges against any of 17 contractors. The attorney general’s office said the case is still open. The case involved contractors, but not the New Georgia Project itself.

Election officials should make sure there’s some substance to allegations before holding press conferences shortly before elections, said Julie Houk, an attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based civil rights organization.

In a previous case, Kemp announced a hacking investigation into the Democratic Party two days before the 2018 governor’s election, which he went on to win against Abrams. Case files from the GBI later revealed there was no hacking attempt, and the Democratic Party of Georgia has sued Kemp over his claims.

“This is a serious problem, where misinformation and disinformation about election fraud and voter fraud is being announced without there being a legitimate basis for it in many cases,” Houk said.

Raffensperger’s office issued a press release threatening racketeering charges under the state’s RICO statute if voter groups organized or financed efforts to bring individuals to Georgia to falsely register to vote.

Under state law, it’s not illegal to mail postcards with information about registering to vote, said Bryan Sells, a voting rights attorney who represents the New Georgia Project in a separate matter. The group’s postcards told potential voters how to go online and use their Georgia driver’s license or ID to register to vote.

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A New York woman wrote on Twitter that she received postcards from The New Georgia Project telling people how to register to vote. The New Georgia Project said the postcards were intended reach potential eligible Georgia voters. Photo via Twitter.

A New York woman wrote on Twitter that she received postcards from The New Georgia Project telling people how to register to vote. The New Georgia Project said the postcards were intended reach potential eligible Georgia voters. Photo via Twitter.

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A New York woman wrote on Twitter that she received postcards from The New Georgia Project telling people how to register to vote. The New Georgia Project said the postcards were intended reach potential eligible Georgia voters. Photo via Twitter.

“There’s no evidence they were encouraging people who were ineligible to do anything unlawful,” Sells said. What they are trying to do, and frankly what all political actors on both sides of the political spectrum do, is try to get anyone who might be eligible to sign up.”

A separate investigation of the New Georgia Project is also ongoing, but it’s unrelated to the organization’s voter registration efforts and the secretary of state’s office. The state ethics commission is investigating whether the New Georgia Project advocated for Abrams’ election in 2018 without registering as a campaign committee or filing fundraising disclosures, a charge the organization has said is “baseless.”

Three other groups besides the New Georgia Project also said Raffensperger’s accusation that they did something wrong is false.

America Votes sent absentee ballot applications to voters across Georgia using an official list of registered voters from the secretary of state’s office along with postal address data, spokesman Sahil Mehrotra said.

“When mailing millions of voters, there are, of course, always situations where an address is out of date. This was the extent of the allegation: that a mass mailing went to an old address,” Mehrotra said.

In the case of another group, Vote Forward, it denied Raffensperger’s allegation that it had attempted to register a dead Alabama woman to vote in Georgia.

A Vote Forward spokesman said it sent handwritten letters to potential voters to encourage them to participate based on a third-party vendor that provided voter information. The letters were sent only to Georgia addresses, didn’t contain registration application forms, and didn’t directly register anyone to vote, according to Vote Forward.

The fourth organization, Operation New Voter Registration, said its work to register out-of-state university students who are living in Georgia for school is allowed under state law.

The cases will be investigated by the secretary of state’s 23 investigators and eventually presented to the State Election Board. The board has the power to dismiss the cases, levy fines, pass election rules or refer cases to the attorney general’s office for potential criminal charges.