For The Record

Critics of Georgia’s new election fraud task force say it will suppress voting

By: - April 29, 2020 7:17 am

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced this week members of an Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force to monitor the upcoming June 9 election. Raffensperger’s office mailed out 6.9 million absentee ballot applications so voters can avoid casting ballots at precincts. Photo illustration by Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger this week appointed members of the new Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force, ostensibly created to protect the integrity of the upcoming June 9 primary election when potentially millions of voters could send in ballots by mail so people can avoid in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Raffensperger’s office mailed out 6.9 million absentee ballot applications to active voters, who then can request actual ballots to mail in to elections officials.

Since then, county elections offices have received more than 893,000 ballot applications. 

Georgia has offered no-excuse absentee balloting since 2005, but voters normally have to initiate the process on their own. In 2018, only about 6% of voters voted by mail. But this year fears of the spread of COVID-19 provide a strong incentive to avoid voting in person at a precinct with the state’s new touchscreen balloting machines.

The new task force will focus on violations, such as someone turning in a ballot for a person who is dead or if someone mails in a vote for an underage family member, said task force member Tasha Mosley, district attorney for the Clayton Judicial Circuit.

“If an investigator alerts us to a problem, we’ll be available to answer any questions and make sure they’re headed down the right road and not going on a tangent chasing a rabbit down a hole,” Mosley said.

Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit District Attorney Shannon Wallace said the dynamics of the pandemic call for elections officials, investigators and prosecutors to be prepared as possible, said the fraud task force member.    

“We’re kind of in unprecedented times right now with the number of absentee ballots expected this cycle,” Wallace said. “The Secretary of State is putting proactive measures in place to ease the minds of voters and establish protocols in anticipation that fraud might occur.”

The Democratic Party of Georgia, Fair Fight Action and the American Civil Liberties Union say Raffensperger’s task force amounts to voter suppression.

They say the Secretary of State’s office should focus on making it easier to vote by covering the postage costs for voters to send in their ballots, Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said. 

Georgia’s requirement of a 55-cent stamp on mail-in ballots is under review in federal court.

“Rather than improving election administration amid this pandemic, he is wasting time and resources on a so-called ‘fraud’ task force to intimidate voters,” Groh-Wargo said in a statement.

Mosley said she understands the concerns’ about voter intimidation. However the task force’s role is to put voters and candidates’ minds at ease about the voting process, she said.

“The purpose coming from where I’m sitting is not to intimidate but hopefully give a measure of security and comfort to citizens of Georgians that hey, my vote is going to count and that it will be one vote per person.”

Wallace, however, describes the voter intimidation allegations surrounding the fraud task force as “preposterous.”

The absentee ballot fraud task force includes U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine, seven state district attorneys and assistant district attorneys, and two county elections officials.

Frances Watson, chief investigator in the Secretary of State’s office, and elections director Chris Harvey are leading the task force.

A poll released this week by the Pew Research Center shows a 70%of voters favor casting ballots by mail, or an 18% increase since 2018. 

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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.