Georgia Secretary of State sues Justice Department over voting records delay

By: - December 1, 2021 7:25 pm

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is suing the Department of Justice for allegedly failing to respond to communications requested by the Republican official about the DOJ’s case challenging Georgia’s voting overhaul. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder (file)

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is suing the U.S. Justice Department over allegations that the federal agency failed to respond to records requests for communications with prominent liberal groups about overturning Georgia’s new election law.

The U.S. District Court of Columbia District lawsuit accuses the agency of not complying in a timely manner after the Republican state elections chief filed the Freedom of Information Act request several months ago. A DOJ lawsuit is among a number of complaints filed in courts alleging discrimination in the election law overhaul passed by Republican lawmakers earlier this year.

Raffensperger requested any communication regarding Georgia’s new election law between the Biden administration and 62 outside groups and individuals as well as members of Congress and their staff members on Aug. 31. The lawsuit claims that the government agency only acknowledged their request, and they claim the DOJ lawsuit is based on political motivation rather than merit.

“Considering how blatantly political the Biden lawsuit against Georgia’s commonsense election law was from the beginning, it’s no surprise they would stonewall our request for basic transparency,” Raffensperger said. “I will always fight for truth and integrity in Georgia’s elections.”

The Freedom of Information Act requires the release of many previously unreleased government documents and information within 20 working days or about one month of a request.

The lawsuit was filed several weeks after the secretary of state’s office settled with the American Oversight watchdog organization for not responding fully to multiple open records requests for election documents and other information.

Raffensperger’s office declined to respond Wednesday when asked by the Georgia Recorder about how its criticism of the DOJ differed from its own violation of the state’s Open Records Act. 

One of Georgia’s leading voting rights groups criticized Raffensperger for his hypocrisy. Common Cause Georgia is one of the plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit challenging provisions of the voting overhaul lawmakers approved in March, but its Georgia director said it hasn’t been informed of the state’s FOIA inquiry or this new lawsuit.

“There should be equitable treatment for sharing information,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “It needs to be a transparent process. You shouldn’t ask for something that you’re not doing.”

Richard T. Griffiths, president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, called the DOJ’s lack of response unacceptable. 

“All citizens deserve the respect of their government to be able to get access to public records and the federal FOIA is designed to let the public know what’s happening in their government,” he said. “Whether you’re a citizen worrying about waste in their neighborhood or a state official wondering about what’s going on related to the litigation they’re involved in.

“That said, we hope Secretary Raffensperger will remember the enormous efforts they had to make to get information out of the federal government and make it easier for citizens to get open records from their agency when citizens of Georgia file,” Griffiths said.

Just a week before the Supreme Court handed down its opinion on a restrictive Arizona voting law, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against Georgia alleging that the state law is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or language. 

The justice department’s suit is among eight pending federal lawsuits facing long odds in challenging Georgia’s sweeping voting overhaul as they attempt to roll back new absentee ID requirements, invalidating provisional ballots cast before 5 p.m. at the wrong precinct and limiting the use of absentee drop boxes.

In March, Georgia was the standard bearer of sweeping election law changes for many Republican-controlled states due to claims by Republican legislators that the new regulations would make voting easier and harder to cheat. 

But opponents of the overhauls pointed out that they were mostly overactions to overwhelmingly disproven claims that fraud resulted in President Donald Trump losing the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden. 

Republicans contend that the law extends early voting by requiring every county to provide it on Sundays and for the first time mandates each county provide at least one drop box for voters to deposit their absentee ballots. Those accommodations became common in Georgia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In this year’s municipal elections, Democrats made significant gains despite the fact that a larger number of absentee ballots were rejected due to a shortened window and new identification requirements due to Georgia’s SB 202.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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