By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Georgia’s top elections official is facing backlash from voting rights groups and a former secretary of state over allegations he made this week on double voting in the state’s June 9 primary.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger held a news conference Tuesday to announce his office had launched investigations into 1,000 alleged instances of people intentionally voting twice in the primaries: once by absentee ballot and once in person on Election Day.
Raffensperger presented no evidence to support the double-voting allegations and stressed the investigation was in its early stages, leading several voter advocates to slam the Republican secretary of state for going public with the claims before bringing proof of wrongdoing.
Former Secretary of State Cathy Cox on Wednesday called Raffensperger’s announcement “highly irregular” and “improper”, and suggested his actions aimed to “sow chaos and cast doubt” on mail-in voting ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
Cox, a Democrat who served as Georgia’s elections chief from 1999 to 2007, said typically investigations into voter fraud involve oversight from the state board of elections and are not directed entirely by the secretary of state. She said Raffensperger “seems to have already pre-judged these matters.”
“We don’t know those facts because there has been no investigation to this point,” Cox said in a news conference Wednesday.
“Instead, we had a secretary of state who jumped to the conclusion that a thousand people had committed a crime and would be prosecuted.”
Raffensperger's office batted back criticism Wednesday and argued the only aim of the investigation is to curb chances for double voting.
“For Secretary Cox to say we shouldn’t investigate 1,000 attempts to steal an election is ridiculous and tone deaf to the needs of election integrity," said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs.
This election season has seen vote-by-mail skyrocket in Georgia amid health concerns brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The primary elections in June drew historic numbers of absentee ballots. The upcoming general election is also poised for huge mail-in voting turnout.
Raffensperger did not outline Tuesday how his office might know for certain that 1,000 people intentionally voted twice, other than to note that “we know one person was bragging about it down in Long County.”
He said around 150,000 voters applied for absentee ballots for the June primaries, then showed up to vote in person. Of those, he claimed 1,000 voters intentionally cast an absentee ballot before voting in person without first canceling their absentee ballots on Election Day as is required.
“We’ll be investigating all 1,000 [double-voting allegations] and we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Raffensperger said at Tuesday’s news conference.
He added results from the investigation should be ready “in the next couple of weeks.”
Shortly after, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s executive director accused Raffensperger of pushing “voting conspiracy theories and disinformation” that threatened to undermine confidence in the upcoming election’s integrity.
Raffensperger’s announcement was also called “a deliberate distraction” by the Georgia Voter Empowerment Task Force, a voting rights group composed of representatives from several other groups including the NAACP and Fair Fight Action, which was set up by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.f
“Under his so-called leadership and the ‘meltdown’ of an election over which he presided, Georgians faced barriers in casting their votes and having their votes counted,” the task force said in a statement. “Now, unsurprisingly, Georgia’s failed top elections official has decided to push a right-wing narrative spreading across the country rather than focusing on protecting the Constitutional rights of every Georgian.”
The Georgia chapter of the ACLU also urged anyone “threatened with prosecution” over double-voting allegations to contact them for legal assistance.