Damning New Report Details Partisan and mithometimes Racially Charged Motivations of those Administering Georgia’s Elections – From Statewide Officials to County Election Board Members
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a letter sent to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Allied Progress called on the Georgia’s top election official to root out those motivated by partisanship and/or racial animus in the administration of the state’s elections. The request comes on National Voter Registration day and follows a months-long investigation into Georgia’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report titled, “Something’s Rotten: Georgia’s Shameful Record of Voter Suppression and the Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Its Elections.
The report details recent attempts by statewide elected officials, state legislators, and county election boards to make voter registration and voting more difficult in Georgia through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters. It also reveals the admittedly partisan political motivations behind these efforts and the racially charged and conspiratorial machinations of local officials entrusted with running impartial and unbiased elections in the Peach State.
“Secretary of State Brian Kemp must move swiftly to root out partisanship and racial animus in the administration of Georgia’s elections – both at the county election board-level and in his own office. Regardless of how we vote, we all want elections that are free from political tampering,” said Allied Progress Executive Director Karl Frisch. He continued, “The admittedly partisan efforts by some Georgia politicians to reduce the participation of minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters in our democratic process should worry us all. This report shows in chilling detail how so many of those responsible for administering Georgia’s elections are motivated by partisanship and in far too many cases, make disturbing racially charged and conspiratorial comments on social media.”
- Georgia Has Enacted Sweeping, Partisan Voter Suppression Policies: Georgia has enacted a number of laws that restrict voter eligibility and that are especially burdensome for minority voters. The state enforces an onerous voter ID law, passed a law that requires voter registration applicants prove their U.S. citizenship, and has strict laws regarding voting rights for felons that disproportionally impact African Americans. The state has worked to cut early voting–including Sunday voting–which is popular among African Americans. Georgia’s secretary of state has also gone out of his way to disrupt voter registration drives targeting communities of color and to purge the voter rolls using practices criticized by Common Cause and the Georgia NAACP.
These Policies Are Driven by Politics and Sometimes Race (Admittedly So in Some Cases):
- Secretary of State Brian Kemp: Admitted he believes registering minority voters is a threat to Republican control in Georgia. Leading up to the 2014 elections, Kemp said Democrats were “registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines” and “if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.” Putting these partisan (and racially charged) observations to work, he has repeatedly investigated minority voter registration and turnout efforts, despite failing to uncover any indications of widespread fraud.
- Governor Nathan Deal: Has been strongly opposed to expanding access to the ballot box since taking office in 2011. For example, he opposed DeKalb County’s plan to allow Sunday voting in 2014, saying that it had “a partisan purpose behind it of trying to increase the Democratic turnout.” The idea that enabling all eligible voters to vote is somehow “partisan” demonstrates Deal’s own political bias towards voter suppression. He used the racially charged phrase “ghetto grandmothers” to describe elderly Georgians who might have trouble finding proper documentation to meet Georgia’s tough voter registration and ID laws.
- State Senator Fran Millar: Said in 2014 that he was upset by efforts to increase voter turnout in an area with a large African American population, complaining that “we are to have Sunday voting at South DeKalb Mall just prior to the election” and that “the location is dominated by African American shoppers and . . . is near several large African American mega churches.” He stated that he “would prefer more educated voters.” Millar called the voter turnout efforts “a partisan stunt” that he hoped “can be stopped.”
- State Representative Barry Fleming: Defended voter suppression policies outside of his role as a state legislator when he was hired by the Hancock County Board of Elections after the NAACP filed a complaint against it in federal court. The NAACP alleges “improper and racially based challenges and purges of black registered voters” from the board’s challenge of almost a fifth of voter registrations in the city of Sparta, which resulted in qualified black voters being removed from the voter rolls. The lawsuit, which has not yet been decided, argues the board aimed to give an advantage to white candidates in Sparta’s municipal elections.
- State Representative Mark Hamilton: Sponsored numerous efforts to suppress voting considered by the Georgia House of Representatives during his tenure there, including controversial legislation that would move local elections in Augusta and the state’s other consolidated city-counties from November, when voter turnout is high, to July, when fewer minority voters make it to the polls. The effort was blocked by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act, citing the harm the change would have on minority voters.
Local Election Administrators Motivated by Partisanship and Sometimes Race:
- Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections: Members Herb Spangler and Rinda Wilson opposed Sunday voting and supported reducing the number of voting locations, citing explicitly partisan reasons for their positions. Wilson said Sunday voting was just an effort by Democrats to “wring out every last vote.” Wilson, who is the chair of the Macon-Bibb County election board, said of fair accessibility, “There’s a point in which convenience [of voting] is becoming ridiculous.” She also has made a range of racially charged and anti-immigrant comments. For example, she praised a letter to the editor in the Macon Telegraph that criticized the black community for taking advantage of “food stamps, welfare payments, housing, free cellphones, and other entitlements” that are “obviously” not paid for by “the black community.”
- Henry County Board of Elections: Despite her position on a board charged with administering elections for every voter, board member Debbie Moon posted memes on social media suggesting that Obama voters should not vote in the next election, that the Democratic Party registers dead people to vote, and that illegal immigrants vote for Democrats. Moon also has written racially charged posts on social media. After the protests in Ferguson, MO, Moon wrote, “the focus should be” on “how to raise young ‘men of color’ so they aren’t criminals who disrespect, disobey, and assault our Law Enforcement Officers.” She posted a meme—seemingly in reference to the riots and looting in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray—that read, “Shoe store located in Baltimore… Work boots untouched.” She also shared a meme of a white police officer that read, “If we really wanted you dead all we’d have to do is stop patrolling your neighborhoods… and wait.”
- Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections: After finding 122 people still registered at the address of a recently demolished public housing project, board member Stan Matarazzo threatened to prosecute all the voters who hadn’t filed change-of-address forms, even though lawyers noted that those residents still had the right to vote provisionally. On social media, Matarazzo suggested that Democrats commit voter fraud.
- Richmond County Board of Elections: Members Sherry Barnes and David “Chip” Barbee supported a plan to consolidate precincts that was opposed by the NAACP, disabled voters, and senior citizens. The plan consolidated several precincts and eliminated two polling locations at senior citizen complexes. A statement issued by Augusta NAACP’s then-president blasted the proposal as “not in the best interest of voting rights, convenience, and respect to [senior citizens’] most constitutional fundamental right, . . . the power and right to vote,” also noting that the changes would “disproportionately affect as many as 9,000 minority voters.”
Text of Letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp (PDF Download):
The Honorable Brian P. Kemp
Georgia Secretary of State
214 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
RE: Investigation into Partisanship/Racial Animus in Georgia Election Administration
Dear Secretary Kemp,
As Secretary of State you set the tone for how elections should be administered in Georgia. County election board members, state legislators, and other statewide elected officials look to your example when considering questions of voter registration and election administration.
That is why we write to you today: in hopes that your office will root out any Georgia election official–both at the county election board-level and in your own office–who is motivated by partisanship or racial animus.
Our request comes after a months-long investigation into Georgia’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report included with this letter. It details recent attempts by state and local officials to make voter registration and voting more difficult through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters.
It also reveals the admittedly partisan political motivations behind many of these efforts and the unfortunately common occurrence of local election officials who should be demonstrating impartiality instead making partisan, racially charged, and/or conspiratorial comments publicly on social media.
Voters must be able to trust that our elections are being administered in a fair and even-handed way by officials committed to neutrality and objectivity.
As Georgia’s chief election official and steward of the state’s democratic process, it is your responsibility to hold accountable anyone who does not meet this high standard.
We hope you will rise to the occasion.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.
This report is one of several state-based investigations being released by Allied Progress this month.
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