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Website tweak may have cut into Georgia’s auto voter registrations


But data The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained through an open records request revealed a steep decline in the rate of registrations through the DDS, falling from 79% in 2020 to 39% last year.

A reason for the decrease wasn’t known until pictures of the department’s website surfaced in response to reporting by the AJC, showing that the agency had altered its online voter registration form last year.

Before January 2021, drivers had to check a box to opt out of the program, meaning they didn’t want to register or update their voting information. The website changed last year so that voters were required to click “Yes” or “No” when asked whether they wanted to register.

That is “really not true automatic voter registration,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, an attorney focused on voting rights for the Brennan Center for Justice.

The DDS recently changed the website again, giving applicants the choice to opt out of registration. Data isn’t yet available to show the effect of the change.

But a DDS spokeswoman was not ready to say the initial change to the website had been responsible for the drop-off in registrations.

“They make the choice,” Shevondah Leslie said, referring to applicants. “The question is still the same, and if that person wants to make a choice, that is their choice to make. We cannot say that changes to the website made a difference.”

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, responding to questions about automatic registration, called it “a false political narrative.”

“It remains easy to register, easy to vote, and hard to cheat in Georgia,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

Calling for investigations into the decline in registrations are three Georgia Democrats in the U.S. House — Sanford Bishop, Carolyn Bourdeaux and Nikema Williams — who sent letters letters this week to express their “extreme concerns” to Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“This steep decline raises serious questions regarding access to the ballot in this year’s election, including the possibility that voters may believe they are registered to vote but are not and are therefore unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” they wrote.

Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the state’s May 24 primary. Voters can check their registration information online at mvp.sos.ga.gov.

Democrat Marcus Flowers, who aims to unseat U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, collected more campaign cash than the Republican from Rome during the first three months of this year. Greene still has an advantage in cash on hand.

Credit: Cat Maplethorpe

Credit: Cat Maplethorpe

Democrat Marcus Flowers, who aims to unseat U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, collected more campaign cash than the Republican from Rome during the first three months of this year. Greene still has an advantage in cash on hand.

Credit: Cat Maplethorpe

Credit: Cat Maplethorpe

Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has proved her chops as a fundraiser during her short time in Congress, but a Democrat bidding for her seat in North Georgia’s 14th Congressional District outpaced her in donations for the past quarter.

Marcus Flowers raised $2.4 million in the first three months of 2022, compared with $1.1 million for Greene.

Flowers is an Army veteran who quit his job at the Department of Defense to run for Congress shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Greene still holds an edge in cash on hand with $3 million to $1.9 million for Flowers. In all, she’s raised $8.4 million for her reelection campaign, while Flowers has collected about $7.1 million.

Both candidates face opposition in their parties’ May 24 primaries.

Here are some other highlights gleaned from recent campaign disclosures:

  • In a showdown of Democratic congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath continues to lead incumbent U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in fundraising in the 7th Congressional District.

McBath moved into the 7th District, setting up her faceoff with Bourdeaux, after the Republican-led General Assembly turned her 6th District into GOP-friendly turf.

She reported collecting $804,497.21 in contributions for the past quarter, finishing with $2.9 million in the bank.

Bourdeaux raised $592,579 for the first three months of 2022, ending with $2.1 million in cash on hand.

Jake Evans raised $411,163.18 for the quarter, including a $200,000 loan he made to his campaign. Evans holds the edge in cash on hand, with $1.2 million to McCormick’s $1.1 million.

Former state Rep. Meagan Hanson raised $117,109 for the period, including a $50,000 loan she made to her campaign. She has $299,432 in cash on hand.

  • Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state representative now running as a Republican in the 10th Congressional District, said “technical difficulties” were responsible for a delay in filing his financial disclosure with the Federal Elections Commission.

The disclosure showed Jones raised $265,651.39 for the first three months of the year, ending with $128,627.35 in cash on hand.

Jones switched races about midway through the quarter, jumping from the GOP gubernatorial primary to enter the contest in the 10th District.

With help from a fundraiser that former President Donald Trump held at this Ma-a-Lago estate in Florida, Jones topped Mike Collins, another leading Republican candidate in the district.

Collins, who raised $143,903.93 during the quarter, remains well ahead of Jones in terms of cash on hand with $743,953.40.

Plaintiffs cited comments by Brian Kemp when he was secretary of state as evidence that Georgia’s voting policies create illegal obstacles that prevent voters, especially Black voters, from casting ballots. But the governor, in a deposition he gave in 2020 but was only recently released, said he was just trying to get Republicans to match the ge-out-the-vote efforts of Democrats who were registered minority voters. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Plaintiffs cited comments by Brian Kemp when he was secretary of state as evidence that Georgia’s voting policies create illegal obstacles that prevent voters, especially Black voters, from casting ballots. But the governor, in a deposition he gave in 2020 but was only recently released, said he was just trying to get Republicans to match the ge-out-the-vote efforts of Democrats who were registered minority voters. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Plaintiffs cited comments by Brian Kemp when he was secretary of state as evidence that Georgia’s voting policies create illegal obstacles that prevent voters, especially Black voters, from casting ballots. But the governor, in a deposition he gave in 2020 but was only recently released, said he was just trying to get Republicans to match the ge-out-the-vote efforts of Democrats who were registered minority voters. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Kemp testifies that GOP needed to match Dems’ energy in turning out minorities

Gov. Brian Kemp said in videotaped testimony that when he expressed concerns about the Democrats’ efforts to turn out minority voters, he was trying to convince Republicans they needed to do more to get their followers to the polls.

The governor gave the deposition in January 2020 as a witness in a federal voting rights trial, but it was only made public in court this month.

The lawsuit alleges that Georgia’s voting policies create illegal obstacles that prevent voters, especially Black voters, from casting ballots. The policies targeted by the suit are Georgia’s “exact match” voter registration rules, absentee ballot cancellation practices and voter registration errors.

Plaintiffs in the suit, including the voting rights group Fair Fight Action, which Democrat Stacey Abrams formed following her loss to Kemp in 2018, used the governor’s comments to build their case.

Kemp had told Republican groups during the 2014 and 2018 election years, when as secretary of state he was Georgia’s top voting official, that they needed to mobilize in response to Democrats’ focus on minority registration and absentee voting.

“From a political perspective, I was concerned about the work that the other side was doing to turn their voters out, and I was making that point to urge our folks to do exactly the same,” Kemp said in the deposition.

In 2014, Kemp told Gwinnett County Republicans that Democrats were “registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines” before adding that “we’ve got to do the exact same thing.”

At a 2018 campaign event in north Atlanta, Kemp said a large number of absentee ballot requests “continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote, which they absolutely can.”

Kemp said in the deposition that he was just trying to motivate Republican voters.

“It didn’t matter what demographic they were. I mean, we knew that there was extensive get-out-the-vote efforts on the other side at the time,” Kemp said. “I knew how hard the other side was working, and we had to do the same, which is what my comments, both of them, speak to.”

Attorneys for the defendants in the case, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Election Board, say Georgia’s election procedures follow the law and provide easy access to voting.

Ossoff-led panel to investigate housing for military families

The mistreatment of military families in privatized housing will be the focus of the first hearing that the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will conduct under Chairman Jon Ossoff.

The hearing will follow a monthslong investigation into abuses by private contractors on and near military bases.

“For eight months, we have investigated the mistreatment of military families in privatized housing on U.S. bases,” Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat, said in a statement. “On Tuesday we will release findings, hear directly from America’s heroes, and question those responsible for their housing.”

Housing for military families has recently gained negative attention. For example, a military housing contractor, after pleading guilty in federal court to fraud, agreed last year to pay $65 million for covering up poorly constructed housing at military bases across the country, including Fort Gordon, near Augusta.

45-year effort produced military retirement exemption

It was a long time in coming, but a portion of military retirement pay will now be exempt from Georgia’s income tax.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation into law during a stop at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus.

The exemption was first proposed in 1977 by Sanford Bishop, now a Democratic U.S. representative from Albany but at the time a member of the state House, WRBL-TV’s Chuck Williams reported.

Georgia House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Smith, a Republican from Columbus, worked for 15 years to get some version of the exemption passed into law. This year, he did it with help from state Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat who served as a U.S. Marine.

House Bill 1064 exempts up to $17,500 in military pension from state income taxes for veterans under the age of 62. Its also exempts up to $17,500 in other income. So veterans on a military pension who work could exempt up to $35,000 from state income taxes.

The new law doesn’t include older veterans because state law already provides an exemption for nonwork income — such as pensions — for those 62 and older.

Politically expedient

  • Greene campaign pays for Eastman’s services: U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s reelection campaign spent $300,000 more than it collected over the first quarter of the year, including $10,000 it paid to attorney John Eastman’s Constitutional Counsel Group, The Business Insider reports. Eastman is best known for pushing the notion that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to block Joe Biden’s certification as president. Eastman also testified to a Georgia Senate panel following the 2020 election that there was “more than enough” evidence for leaders to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors, which a Georgia legal scholar called “total and utter nonsense.”
  • Campaign cash headed for Georgia, Part I: Heritage Action’s plans to reshape the U.S. Senate include spending big in four states, and Georgia is one of them. The conservative group set up a super PAC called the Sentinel Action Fund to support the GOP nominee here, as well as Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire.
  • Campaign cash headed for Georgia, Part II: The Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, could drop big dollars in Georgia. The group plans to spend at least $141 million here and other states with contested Senate races. Steven Law, the SLF’s president, told Politico that with Democratic candidates such as Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock often surpassing their GOP opponents in fundraising, his group will try to “level the playing field.” The Senate Majority PAC, which has ties to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, announced earlier that it plans to spend $106 million to support Democratic candidates in five states, including Georgia.
  • Cruz backs McCormick: Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz endorsed Rich McCormick in the 6th Congressional District’s GOP primary.
  • Group endorses female candidates: Georgia WIN List — which trains Democratic women for office — lined up behind seven candidates in metro Atlanta legislative races: Melody Bray for Senate District 38, Esther Panitch for House District 51, Inga Willis for House District 55, Keona Jones for House District 56, Tanya Miller for House District 62, Ruwa Romman for House District 97 and Mya Speller Cullins for House District 117. The group also endorsed Joyce Barlow in House District 151, which is based in the Albany area.
  • Latino group backs three in legislative races: The Latino Victory Fund endorsed Democrats Jason Esteves for Senate District 6, Phil Olaleye for House District 59 and Michelle Schreiner for House District 90.
  • Former governor supports Gwinnett Democrat: State House District 97 candidate JT Wu won an endorsement from former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

Elsewhere online

Other stories about Georgia government and politics can be found at www.ajc.com/politics/.





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