Fight Against Voter Suppression Continues in Georgia

May 15, 2019

Plaintiffs argue before the GA Supreme Court that malfunctioning voting machines caused tens of thousands of missing votes in the Georgia Lt. Gov. race. What could it mean if this case goes forward?

Earlier this year, plaintiffs in Georgia challenged the election of Republican Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan over Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico, claiming malfunctioning voting machines may have caused a significant number of votes in the lieutenant governor's race to not be counted. The case was dismissed, but the plaintiffs have appealed that decision and are now asking the Georgia Supreme Court to reopen the case.

At issue is a significant drop in the number of people who voted for governor and lieutenant governor—about 80,000 less than usual. Kamau Franklin, an attorney, activist, and writer, and Racial Justice Fellow and attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told The Real News Network's Jacqueline Luqman it is “one of the strangest anomalies that anyone has ever seen” when it comes to voting.

“There is definitely usually a slope or a slight drop-off between the top ticket, the governor's race, and the lieutenant governor's race, and then the secretary of state's race,” Franklin said. “But what happened in this particular election is that nearly 4 million ballots were cast in a governor's race, but in the lieutenant governor's race 159,000 votes were somehow not cast or dropped off, representing approximately four percent of the voter total.”

Then with the secretary of state's race, the position right below lieutenant governor, 103,000 of those votes returned. “That type of anomaly never happens,” Franklin said.

Attorneys for Republican Lieutenant Governor-elect Geoff Duncan argue that this is simply a case of people deciding to skip the option to vote for lieutenant governor. The plaintiffs in the case, who are three Georgia voters and the Voter Empowerment Organization Coalition for Good Governance, say it is a case of malfunctioning electronic voting machines.

“In Georgia there is no paper trail for the voting machines, and so this has been something that was a huge issue during the elections for the governor's race and onward, until there is no way to trace through paper ballots what the actual voting was,” Franklin said. “And so right now there is a big push to replace the voting machines for different companies who are vying for the replacement of those voting machines, so the fact that the secretary of state's office will not open up the machines and do a full recount based on what happened in the machines is another sticking point for what's happening in this race.”

Franklin explained that it isn't clear if the missing votes are the result of machine malfunction or a “more devious malfunction,” and it will remain unclear “because the Republicans in this particular case have been stonewalling when it comes to a full review of the election results.” What is at stake, Luqman added, is the future of elections in Georgia, not just the results of the lieutenant governor's race: “This isn't a case about recalling the lieutenant governor. It really is a case about ensuring fair and transparent elections in general for voters in Georgia. And as a template for voters across this country,” Luqman said.

The next step is seeing if the Supreme Court will take the case.

“Whether or not the voting machines themselves malfunctioned or whether or not there was some stealing of an election—and I think that question needs to be answered,” Franklin said. “Right now it rests on the Supreme Court's hands in Georgia. And we'll see whether or not they take that on.”


Fight Against Voter Suppression Continues in Georgia

Story Transcript

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Hi. I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. In January this year, plaintiffs in Georgia challenged the election of Lieutenant Governor Jeff Duncan, claiming malfunctioning voting machines may have caused a significant number of votes in the lieutenant governor’s race not to be counted. The case was dismissed, but the plaintiffs have appealed that decision and are now asking the Georgia Supreme Court to reopen the case. What could it mean for the recent Georgia elections and the Georgia electoral process in general, if this case does go forward? Here to talk to me about this today is Kamau Franklin, who is an attorney, activist and writer, and he was the Racial Justice Fellow and attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, concentrating on federal class action litigation against the New York Police Department on racial profiling. Kamau, thank you so much for joining me today.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Thank you for having me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN So there was a lot of focus on the governor’s race in Georgia. In fact, almost all of the focus on a national level was on the governor’s race between Brian Kemp, the Republican, and Stacey Abrams, the Democrat, but there was little media attention paid to the lieutenant governor’s race. Now, I want to lay the foundation for what we’re talking about here, why this matters. Is the Georgia lieutenant governor’s race a separate election, or is electing the lieutenant governor in Georgia just a matter of choosing an option on an entire ballot of candidates that includes the candidates for governor and all the other offices?

KAMAU FRANKLIN It’s the latter. There’s a list of candidates that voters go down and choose— the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and then downward. In this particular case, what we have is one of the strangest anomalies that anyone has ever seen. There is definitely usually a slope or a slight drop-off between the top ticket, the governor’s race, then the lieutenant governor’s race, and then the secretary of state’s race. But what happened in this particular election is that nearly four million ballots were cast in the governor’s race, but in the lieutenant governor’s race, 159,000 votes were somehow not cast or dropped off, representing approximately four percent of the voter total. Then, what makes it even stranger is that in the secretary of state’s race, which is right below that, 103,000 of those voters actually came back and then they voted in that race. So that type of anomaly never happens. Again, it’s a standard slope that a slight drop-off will happen and here, that’s not what took place at all.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN So I’m glad you brought up that point because the attorneys for Republican Lieutenant Governor-elect Jeff Duncan argue that this is simply a case of what you just alluded to, people just deciding to skip the option to vote for lieutenant governor. But the plaintiffs in the case, who are three Georgia voters and the voter empowerment organization, Coalition for Good Governance, reject this explanation and say that this is a case of malfunctioning electronic voting machines. Why focus on the voting machines in particular?

KAMAU FRANKLIN Well in Georgia, there is no paper trail for the voting machines. And so, this has been something that was a huge issue during the elections for the governor’s race and onward. There is no way to trace through paper ballots what the actual voting was. Right now, there is a big push to replace the voting machines. There are probably four different companies who are vying for the replacement of those voting machines. The fact that the secretary of state’s office will not open up the machines and do a full recount based on what happened in the machines, is another sticking point for what’s happening in this race. It’s hard to say whether or not this is a voting machine malfunction, whether there is some sort of more devious malfunction that’s taking place, because the Republicans in this particular case have been stonewalling when it comes to a full review of the election results.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Now, this is the issue that precipitated the original case. The three voters challenged their ability to vote for lieutenant governor and they asked for the paper trail, or a paper trail for the electronic voting machine, and they were denied access to full voter records. They were only given access to limited voter data to do, as you said, to validate that votes were counted as they should have been. Does this call into question—if this case goes forward, what does this do as far as calling into question Brian Kemp’s record as secretary of state because it was under Kemp that so much voter suppression occurred?

KAMAU FRANKLIN I think the legitimacy of the elections are totally clouded at this particular stage. I think that’s been the case in the governor’s race when Brian Kemp at first refused to recuse himself from the secretary of state’s office, and only under massive pressure did he then decide to do such. Again, the secretary of state’s office, as all statewide offices, are controlled by Republicans and their basic feeling is that we should move on, these elections are over. But there are so many questions with this lieutenant governor’s race and still some unanswered questions in the governor’s race as to the role of the secretary of state’s office, both when Kemp  was there and when Kemp left the office— the missing ballots, folks not fully registered to vote somehow not on the voting roll. These things were pernicious during Kemp’s time period in office as secretary of state and so, like I said earlier, they’re just putting a total cloud over these elections and the legitimacy of them.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Now the issue of voter suppression was recently raised by not just activists and Georgia voters, but it was elevated to a national level by Stacey Abrams herself in her response to the recent State of the Union address. This is what she said.

STACEY ABRAMS Let’s be clear. Voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls, to moving and closing polling places, to rejecting lawful ballots— we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy. We cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote. We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a power grab. Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risked their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders, not where politicians pick their voters.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Now Kamau, this particular case focuses on the lieutenant governor result, but what would the implication be for the validity of the governor’s race itself if this case does go forward? Would this refocus the attention on the voter suppression efforts of Kemp, the Secretary of State, and would it become a foundation for challenging the validity of the outcome of the governor’s race?

KAMAU FRANKLIN Well I think it would continually hold that race in a certain amount of suspicion. I think the lieutenant governor’s race, although they’re not asking for a revote or another election, but they are asking for a scrutiny of the voting machines and the election process itself. I don’t think it will flip the governor’s election in any way or cause a new election for the governor’s race, but almost as importantly, it delegitimizes further the way these races are held, the role of the secretary of state’s office in these races. Again, as Ms. Abrams mentioned, the missing ballots, polls closing, these things are real. They’re not necessarily the distance between Abrams and her opponent. It’s crucial in terms of important issues that people are facing as everyday voters— everything from reproductive health issues, to taxes, to gun control, to crime. These are not small matters that we’re talking about. Obviously, the power of the governorship and where people will go in terms of the process to hold on to it, this just really questions whether or not these elections were fair and valid.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN So this isn’t a case about recalling the lieutenant governor. It really is a case about ensuring fair and transparent elections, in general, for voters in Georgia and as a template for voters across this country.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Yeah, most definitely. I think having conversations about the machines themselves and, again, the paper trail, the drop off, again, and those who voted in the lieutenant governor’s race. And, again, it’s not just a question in my mind of whether or not the machines were inaccurate, but I think this goes further because you had, again, a drop-off that is unheard of in terms of the lieutenant governor’s race. And then, in the secretary of state’s race right afterward, you had most of those voters all of the sudden voting again. So, I think there’s a lot of questions to be answered. I think that this case should move forward, but again, what you have in the court system are Republican judges who control the bench and the outcome of whether or not we’ll ever get a chance to investigate what really happened in these elections.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN So the last question I want to ask you is about the media attention that we started talking about at the beginning of our conversation, because the media attention on the Georgia governor’s race was very interesting in that there was little attention paid to the lieutenant governor race or any of the other down ballot races in Georgia, which is not unusual in regard to midterm and interim elections in the states. But if the argument is that this is not an issue of malfunctioning voting machines, if it’s not an issue of uncounted ballots or intentional malfeasance, could there be an argument made that the oversized attention the media gave to just the governor’s race and paid little attention to the lieutenant governor’s race, may have contributed to this lopsided outcome as far as the voting in the lieutenant governor’s race? What do you think of that argument?

KAMAU FRANKLIN Although, I think that the media did pay an extreme amount of attention to the governor’s race. Again, the anomaly across the country in governor’s races, lieutenant governor races, secretary of state races, is that there is a slight drop-off when voters go to the polls. They vote mostly for the top tier ballot races and then they may drop off a little bit. What we have here is something that I think it’s extremely hard to explain outside of malfeasance and outright stealing of an election, how four percent, 130,000 or 140,0000 people did not vote in the second tier election or the lieutenant governor’s race, but then most of those people came back and voted for the secretary of state’s race. This is unheard of. Although I think there was an inordinate amount of attention paid to the governor’s race and it was historical that you had a black woman running on a major party line for the governorship, I think the bigger question here is whether or not the voting machines themselves malfunctioned, or whether or not there was some stealing of an election. I think that question needs to be answered. You know, right now it rests on the Supreme Court’s hands in Georgia and we’ll see whether or not they take that on or not.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Well Georgia’s Supreme Court is expected to decide this case in the coming months, and we will certainly be watching for the outcome. But until then, thank you, Kamau Franklin, for helping us understand this issue a little bit better today.

KAMAU FRANKLIN Thank you for having me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.