As the New Voter Project Turns Over Data, SOS Kemp Defends Investigation

Complying with a subpoena issued by Secretary of State Brian Kemp two and a half weeks ago, the New Georgia Project turned over some of the data relating to the voter registration drive the organization has conducted this year. According the the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, additional data may be released next week.

Still, it was not clear whether the Democratic-backed group would turn over all the documents Kemp requested. The New Georgia Project announced an agreement to limit the scope of Kemp’s subpoena, and in a statement the group said it “has agreed to provide a defined set of materials in the continued spirit of transparency and cooperation.”

A spokesman for Kemp, however, said no agreement had been reached. It may take several days to sort through the electronic files to understand what’s there. Among documents requested were copies kept by the group of voter registration applications, as well as canvassing sheets.

“In the communications we had with them, they said they would give us documents starting today,” Kemp spokesman Jared Thomas said. “The scope has not been limited. This is just the beginning.”

Kemp is concerned because his office has discovered what was originally reported as 25 fraudulent registration applications, now up to 33. While around 85,000 applications have been submitted by the New Georgia project, many are still being processed by county elections offices, including around 3,500 in Muscogee County, and almost 8,000 in Fulton County.

The Secretary of State’s investigation into the legitimacy of the voter registration applications has stirred up controversy leading up to the November 4th elections, where minority voter participation is expected to be a major factor in the outcome. Whether the effort is voter intimidation or a legitimate attempt to protect against fraud appears to lie in the eye of the beholder.

In an effort to defend the actions of his office, Secretary of State Kemp issued the following op-ed, which was published in Friday’s AJC. It appeared opposite a guest column by former NAACP chairman Julian Bond.

The most important right of any American is the right to vote. As Georgia’s Secretary of State, I have a Constitutional duty to ensure that our elections are secure and accessible to every citizen of our great state. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.

Since being elected, I have led efforts to make voting easier and more secure. Our Office pioneered a program that allows our military and overseas citizens to receive ballots electronically. This cuts the time in half it takes to complete the voting process for these citizens. Among many new online voter tools, I also recently launched an Online Voter Registration program to allow anyone with a Georgia Driver’s License to register to vote or change their voter registration online.

Never in Georgia’s history has it been easier for every citizen to participate in the electoral process than it is today.

Protecting the right to vote is also about making sure that every vote truly counts. Fraudulent activity, in any form, is a serious criminal offense and it undermines what makes our country and our state the envy of the world.

In May of this year, elections officials in Butts County contacted our Investigative Division to report possible illegal voter registration activities. To date, 15 counties have reported suspicious activities by a group called the New Georgia Project. After a preliminary investigation, one third of the reported suspicious voter registration applications have turned out to be confirmed forgeries, which amount to felonies in Georgia.

These disturbing allegations led to a bipartisan and unanimous vote of the State Election Board to issue a subpoena reaffirming the scope of my office’s investigation into that group. We will not know the full scope of the problems until the New Georgia Project complies with that subpoena.

It is the silly season of politics as we near the November elections. While the overheated and racially inflammatory rhetoric of some involved is unfortunate and disappointing, it does not change the simple facts involved.

Contrary to the claims of the New Georgia Project, reprinted many times by this newspaper, they did not self-report any of the forgeries that have been confirmed by our Office on the voter registration forms they submitted to various counties. My Office did not “target” them or impede the right of any citizen to engage in the electoral process. Following state law, local elections officials do an amazing job everyday of managing the elections processes in their communities, and they properly reported these violations.

Ironically, if this group would have simply used the Online Voter Registration program that my office launched this year, these problems could have been avoided.

Much has been made by these groups and certain members of the press of the broader efforts of the New Georgia Project, claiming that the broad reach of their efforts is an excuse for serious criminal activity in a portion of it.

I applaud the efforts of any group, regardless of their political orientation, to register people to vote, but noble intentions are not an excuse to commit felonies in our state.

How many felonies are enough to warrant action by your state government?

As Georgia’s Secretary of State, my answer is that any instance of fraudulent activity or illegal voter registration activity requires action.

13 comments

  1. Dave Bearse says:

    The optics on this situation would have been at least nominally better for Kemp if he didn’t think that grandstanding was part of his job, and have let New Georgia Project bring it to the media.

  2. George Chidi says:

    Kemp is in full dog-whistle mode. But there’s more to this than people get. I may have to write about it in detail, soon.

    The laughable 33 “confirmed forgeries” number is an apparent result of registrations turned in with bad data, in which the person supposedly trying to register actually contacted an elections office to say “it ain’t me.”

    The problem is that there may be many other registrations where the voter registration form doesn’t match anyone, or is only partially filled out, or is just wrong. The registrar will send mail to the listed address on the registration to confirm, but no one will reply to say “nope, not me.”

    It’s fraud of a sort, but not the kind that turns into the equivalent of dead people voting. It’s paid canvassers more or less making stuff up to meet a quota. The New Georgia Project isn’t paying people by the voter card — they’ve said they’re paying people by the hour. But I suspect — I hope it’s not so — that pressure to perform may still be a factor in bogus registration forms.

    DeKalb has something like 10,000 registrations to sort through right now. But I am told that as many as 4,000 of them will be defective — incomplete or incorrect address, or name, or social security number or DL number. We’ve been talking about the low percentage of fraud discovered, but the defect rate looks consistent with other registration drives of the past. My fear is that the campaigns may be counting on big registration numbers to convert into big turnout, given the reporting to date. The danger is that campaign leaders may not realize that they’ll actually need to step up registration efforts — damn Kemp’s complaints, full speed ahead — until it’s too late.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      Dekalb County no longer requires full Social Security number, only last four digits. I re-registered recently to remove certain personal and private information. Due to hacking and other identity theft concerns, I removed telephone number, SSN, and anything else I could leave blank.

      Oh, and I put race as “other” since I am tired of gerrymandering over demographics.
      I suggest anyone with privacy concerns re-register and leave blank any personal, non-required info. Counties are required to purge old data when you do this.

        • NoTeabagging says:

          Well, that’s some relief. I would guess political consultants and their clients obsess over this demographic information for redistricting, campaigns and other purposes. Such information is derived from public voter records, census, property owner information, credit bureaus and anything else they can get their hands on.

  3. Harry says:

    Democrats paying people to register special targeted groups to vote instead of using their own partisan volunteers is akin to unions paying homeless people to picket businesses instead of using their own members.

  4. saltycracker says:

    Great thought – the GOP needs to hire the homeless to picket those registration places – problem equalized.

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