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When we first reported that handing a slice of pizza to a voter waiting three hours in a line is now a felony in Georgia, other media quickly picked up the story, highlighting the cruelty of Georgia Republicans making predominantly Black voters suffer from hunger and thirst in lines the GOP deliberately made long by closing polling stations in majority-Black precincts.
But the food-in-line prohibition is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to horrific provisions hidden in the 95 pages of Georgia’s new anti-voting law.
Donald Trump infamously demanded the Georgia secretary of state “find 11,780” votes. The MAGA crowd in the Georgia legislature found 364,541 votes to cancel, that is, voters whose ballots would be blocked from the count in the next election.
To understand how this mass attack on citizens will work, we have to go back to December 21, 2020, just before the Georgia Senate runoffs, when True the Vote, a Texas group founded by Tea Party crusader Catherine Engelbrecht, challenged the right of 364,541 Georgians to cast ballots. You read that number right: More than a third of a million voters almost lost their vote.
Almost. County elections boards, facing threats by the ACLU and Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight, rejected the challenges, noting that the numbers were too huge to be credible. One voter can challenge another if they have personal knowledge that the other voter is a fraud. The local shills used by the Texas group knew nothing of those they challenged.
However, the new Georgia law specifically authorizes unlimited challenges. And Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State has gleefully invited True the Vote to attack voter rolls. (For more on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom voting rights lawyer Gerald Griggs calls the “Vote Suppressor in Chief,” see my report for Democracy Now!)
But won’t those same county boards kick out any new absurd challenges? The MAGA mob in the legislature has got that covered. Under the new law, the State Board of Elections can remove a county board if it doesn’t, in the state’s opinion, rule properly on these challenges.
Under the new law, the State Board of Elections can remove a county board if it doesn’t, in the state’s opinion, rule properly on these challenges.
And who will make up the state board? The new law hands over the board to the GOP leaders of the legislature plus a representative of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is infamous for his own manipulations of the voter rolls which gave him the gubernatorial race against Stacey Abrams.
The True the Vote challenges, officially backed by the Republican Party, centered on Atlanta counties with mostly voters of color. Voting rights attorney Barbara Arnwine, founder of Transformative Justice Coalition and co-plaintiff with Black Voters Matter, warns that the new state board will have the authority to remove the local board and override local decisions.
Follow the Money
Where the heck did True the Vote’s Engelbrecht get the dollars to mount this multi-county attack on Georgians?
In 2016, our investigator Zach D. Roberts confronted Engelbrecht about her funding by the Koch Brothers, which she didn’t deny. ProPublica also traced True the Vote’s lucre to the Bradley Foundation, which our team exposed as the funders of attempts to wrongly purge Black voters in Milwaukee.
Don’t discount True the Vote. The lawyer who is leading their attack in Georgia is James Bopp Jr., who argued for Citizens United in the Supreme Court case that opened the door to corporate money poisoning our elections.
Follow the List
That’s the money. But True the Vote’s list of challenge-worthy votes supposedly came from the U.S. Post Office’s National Change of Address registry.
Sounds official. Sounds legit. It isn’t. In 2017 and 2018, Brian Kemp, then both Secretary of State and candidate for governor, used a similar list to remove hundreds of thousands of voters on the grounds they had moved out of Georgia.
The Palast Investigative Fund, working for Salon, hired the nation’s top experts in the use of postal files and found that Kemp’s list was as phony as a three-dollar bill. Kemp also claimed he relied on the Post Office, but the experts found Kemp had wrongly barred 340,355 from the polls.
We located one of the voters who was wrongly accused of illegally registering from a former address: 92-year-old Christine Jordan, a cousin of the late Dr. Martin Luther King. I was with her when she was bounced from the polls.
Stacey Abrams cited our story in declaring she’d been cheated out of victory. And cheated she was.
In 2020, the ACLU released a new report by the Palast Investigative Fund in which we identified, by name and address, another 198,351 Georgians who were wrongly removed. Black Voters Matter sued in federal court to reverse the removals.
Crucially, Black Voters Matter — working with the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which seeks to empower Latino and Latina communities to register to vote — used postcards, billboards, phone calls and publicity to re-register the victims we identified.
The result: Georgia’s voters, not the purge, chose the president and senators.
That didn’t make Trump or his MAGA loyalists in the legislature happy.
And the federal case (in which I testified for Black Voters Matter) has won a grudging agreement from the state that Georgia must follow the complex process in federal law meant to stop the removal of innocent voters.
But now, innocent voters beware.
Avoiding Federal Law — or Breaking It?
True the Vote is crowing that Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger has virtually invited it to challenge more voters.
While the press has made much of his war with Trump, Raffensperger is very much a partisan Republican hack — one of the most vicious suppression experts I’ve encountered in my long career.
Now he has openly stated that he can use True the Vote’s challenge trickery to avoid the strictures of federal law. True the Vote’s press release quotes Raffensperger:
“I’ve said since Election Day that I must follow the law in the execution of our elections, and I’ve also encouraged Georgians to report any suspected problems for my office to investigate,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “Though federal law restricts our ability to update our voter registration lists, the Elector Challenge is a vehicle under our law to ensure voter integrity.”
In other words, while Raffensperger must follow federal law, he claims that True the Vote doesn’t have to, and he can merrily accept True the Vote’s challenges.
Federal law prohibits states from removing voters within 90 days of a federal election. It requires that voters challenged for supposedly living out of state must be sent a postcard, months before an election, allowing the voter to halt their removal. And it requires the postal change-of-address information come from a post office licensed source, not “Joe’s Purges-R-Us.”
The GOP believes Georgia’s voters can’t be trusted to choose their senators and governor. Rather, Republicans are counting on Jim Crow to “true the vote.”
But Raffensperger is saying that if True the Vote gives voters no notice, uses a bogus unlicensed list and demands that voters be removed without notice just days before the election, that’s a perfectly fine way to sidestep federal protection.
And if a county elections board finds True the Vote’s methods biased, wrong and illegal, as they have so far, the new partisan state board can simply overrule the county.
In other words, to hell with federal law. The state can’t commit the crime, but the state can simply adopt the illegal process used by this Koch-moneyed operation.
True the Vote claims its purge operation doesn’t threaten rights because the counties will have to send each challenged voter a letter allowing them to show up to a hearing to defend their registration or ballot.
But, as Arnwine told me, almost no one will take a day off from work to show up to a courtroom-style hearing to prove they are who they are. And some challenges can occur after a voter has cast a mail-in ballot.
Sen. Raphael Warnock is already campaigning to hold his seat in 2022. He is expected to be on the ballot with Stacey Abrams running for “reelection” as governor. Clearly, the GOP believes Georgia’s voters can’t be trusted to choose their senators and governor. Rather, Republicans are counting on Jim Crow to “true the vote.”
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is the author most recently of How Trump Stole 2020, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, now a film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Case of the Stolen Election. Palast has been tracking racial vote trickery for The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Democracy Now! and Truthout.