Georgia Voters Choosing-Again-Who Will Oversee Elections

Dec 4, 2018

It's Election Day in Georgia — again — giving voters one more chance to choose who will respond to demands to change the state's elections infrastructure.

Tuesday's runoff will decide whether a Republican or a Democrat will run future elections after the contentious gubernatorial contest between Gov.-elect Brian Kemp and challenger Stacey Abrams. Kemp remained secretary of state until after the general election, infuriating Democrats who called it a conflict of interest and accused him of suppressing minority votes.

Both Republican state Rep. Brad Raffensperger and former Democratic congressman John Barrow promise, if elected, to replace Georgia's paperless voting machines with a system that produces paper records that could be used to audit election results.

But Raffensperger would make preventing fraud his priority, pledging to continue Kemp's practice of strictly enforcing voter ID laws and pruning registration rolls of inactive voters. Barrow, in contrast, says Georgia needs to make it easier to cast ballots, and do more to count every eligible vote.

The only other statewide race in Tuesday's runoff pits incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton against Democrat Lindy Miller for a seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Eaton has the support of the nuclear power industry as commissioners must decide who pays the ballooning costs of the Plant Vogtle nuclear plant. Miller, a solar energy executive, insists that shareholders, not ratepayers, must bear the risk of cost overruns.

The secretary of state's runoff focused on the same issues that dogged Kemp in the general election — Georgia's strict "exact match" policy for confirming voters' identities, the repeated exposure of voters' personal information and reports that its aging computer systems are vulnerable to hackers.

Kemp insists the Democrats' accusations are false, pointing to large increases in voter registration on his watch and record turnout on Nov. 6.

Any changes to state elections laws must first be approved by the Republican-controlled legislature for Kemp's signature.

President Donald Trump endorsed the Republican in a tweet calling Raffensperger "tough on Crime and Borders," even though the office of secretary of state oversees elections, professional licensing and business incorporation, and has no law enforcement role.

Abrams urged voters to support Barrow as a group she backs, Fair Fight Action, pursues a federal lawsuit challenging the elections infrastructure.

Barrow also was endorsed by Smythe DuVal, the Libertarian candidate whose distant third-place finish in November forced the runoff.

Dirk Lamb, 42, brought his 5-year-old son, Zach, with him to vote in Atlanta's Candler Park neighborhood Tuesday morning. He said he's looking for a change and voted for Barrow.

"Republicans have been in charge of our voting mechanisms the last few years, and I don't think it's been very fair," he said, citing the removal of voters from the rolls, the exact match law and the closure of some polling places.

An Abrams supporter, Lamb said he's pleased to see her remaining active even after ending her campaign.

"I'm super excited to see that she is still putting energy behind improving a bad process," he said.

Casting their ballots in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood, Julia Chabannes and her husband Jimmy Cook, both 69, said they chose Raffensperger.

"I voted Republican just because I am a Republican," she said. "I did think the Democratic candidate had very convincing TV ads, but I feel more comfortable with Republicans in office."

The pair said they were skeptical about assertions by Democrats that voters were disenfranchised by Kemp's policies and practices.

"If there was a million people disenfranchised, they've been disenfranchised a long time because they've been in a graveyard," said Cook.

A win by Barrow, of Athens, would give Democrats a long-sought statewide victory in Georgia, where Republicans have held every statewide office from governor to insurance commissioner since 2010. It would also mark a personal comeback for Barrow, who served for a decade in Washington before losing his U.S. House seat in 2014.

Raffensperger, of the northern metro Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek, has served four years in the state legislature.

The winner will take over in January from Robyn Crittenden, who was appointed secretary of state when Kemp stepped down after the election.