Georgia lawmakers poised to create oversight panel with power to remove local prosecutors

Momentum continues to build in the Georgia Legislature for a proposed law that could allow state officials to remove district attorneys from office for misconduct.

The Georgia House moved a step closer this week to establishing a prosecutor oversight commission, the first of its kind in Georgia, as the House Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 92 along a party line vote on Wednesday.

The Republican-backed bill is now set to go before the gatekeeping House Rules Committee, which determines which bills can make it to the floor for a vote. The 2023 legislative session ends on March 29.

Sen. Randy Robertson, a Catuala Republican, said the measure aims to hold local prosecutors accountable in a similar manner to judges, who are subject to investigation by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission. Georgia sets a high bar for police officer’s conduct, which results in more officers being decertified than in any other state.

“The criminal justice system is under oversight whether you’re a deputy sheriff working in a rural county or you’re a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department,” Robertson said. “There are multiple layers of opportunities to have your actions reviewed, studied and corrected.”

“I’ve watched judges who chose to do things their way as opposed to the way things were supposed to be done who retire and leave the job because they failed to meet that high standard,” Robertson said.

In 2020, Democrats proposed the creation of a similar committee following allegations of improper handling and eventual criminal indictment of the local prosecutor who initially took charge of investigating the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 23-year-old Black man killed by three white men while jogging in a Brunswick-area neighborhood.

At the time, Republicans dismissed Democrats’ proposals to form a new commission that would weed out problematic prosecutors or at least dole out some form of punishment to district attorneys who didn’t meet the proposed standards.

In recent months, some Democratic legislators and prosecutors have questioned whether Republican legislators’ support of more prosecutorial oversight is related to political reasons instead of serious concerns about district attorneys abusing their authority.

They point to the fact that in the 2020 election, a record number of non-white women were elected as district attorneys in Georgia.

About two dozen of Georgia’s district attorneys and solicitors have signed a letter supporting the oversight commission. The proposal, however, is opposed by the state’s prosecuting and district attorney associations, which complain a state oversight panel could unfairly target local prosecutors for making independent judgments about which types of cases should be pursued.

Opponents also argue that the legislation is unnecessary since voters already can decide whether district attorneys are re-elected and prosecutors who break the law face criminal charges.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is pursuing a probe of former President Donald Trump, has complained the legislation is an overreaction.

Similarly, House Bill 231 establishes a new board which determines the consequences of prosecutors declining to prosecute low-level offenses.

A district attorney or solicitor general could be removed under the proposed law for willful and prejudicial misconduct as well as physical or mental disabilities that inhibit their ability to prosecute cases.

Under HB 231, the Georgia Supreme Court would appoint a five-member investigative panel and three-member hearing panel. Robertson’s plan calls for Georgia’s legislative leadership to choose the members.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Fulton indictments coming soon in 2020 election probe — just not reeling in big fish

There will be indictments.

They are coming at the federal level – you don’t subpoena a former vice president in a high-profile criminal case unless and until prosecutions are likely — and they are coming at the state level here in Georgia.

At least, I think so.

That prediction is not based on leaks. To their credit, both the state and federal investigations into the attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election have been extremely disciplined and protective of the rights of those they are investigating. They show every sign of appropriate caution and attention to detail, as a prosecution of this gravity requires. Every step, every decision that special counsel Jack Smith and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis take will be subject to close scrutiny, in the courts and in public discourse, and they seem to recognize that reality. So doing it right is much more important than doing it fast.

But like the subpoena issued to Vice President Mike Pence, some pieces of the end game are already coming into view.

Earlier this week, for example, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney temporarily barred release of much of a report by the special grand jury empaneled by Willis. (Select parts of the report will be released Thursday.) In explaining his decision, McBurney made some telling points.

Having reviewed that final report, the judge writes, “(The special grand jury) provided the district attorney with exactly what she requested: a roster of who should (or should not) be indicted, and for what, in relation to the conduct and the aftermath of the 2020 general election in Georgia.”

It’s hard to imagine McBurney writing that sentence knowing that no indictments had been recommended.

Furthermore, in ordering much of that report withheld for the time being, McBurney explained that “potential future defendants were not able to present evidence” to the special grand jury and thus have due-process rights that the typical one-sided grand-jury process is not designed to protect.

“This is particularly true if the grand jury’s final report includes recommendations involving individuals who never appeared before the grand jury and so had no opportunity, limited or not, to be heard,” McBurney wrote.

Among those who never appeared before the grand jury, and thus never got a chance to explain his actions, was Donald Trump.

It is still possible that the special grand jury, comprised of lay citizens, has recommended indictments that Willis, as an attorney and officer of the court, is not prepared to pursue. Much as I hate to admit it, a prosecution of Trump based solely on what is already on the public record would not be the easy slam dunk that many claim.

In the end, you can argue all day that what Trump and others did in trying to overturn the election ought to be criminal, and you’d be right, but what ought to be criminal sometimes technically isn’t. Sometimes what’s written in the law books doesn’t map perfectly onto what occurred, because those who enacted the code couldn’t foresee every bizarre eventuality that real life sometimes offers.

Similar caution applies to concerns expressed by the grand jury in its report “that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony,” as McBurney put it. That’s troubling, but again, what grand jurors perceive as lying under oath may be difficult or impossible for a prosecutor to prove as perjury beyond a reasonable doubt.

It’s natural to assume that months of investigation and testimony under oath by dozens of witnesses has produced evidence not yet available to the rest of us, but we don’t know that. And if my reading proves wrong, if Willis chooses not to pursue indictments of Trump and others, it will be important to accept that outcome as fair under the law. By now, she and her colleagues know a lot more than the rest of us and have done their due diligence. They will have earned the right to have such a difficult decision respected.

But I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia GOP senators push through installation of Clarence Thomas statue at state Capitol

The Georgia Senate passed a bill Tuesday after contentious debate that would place a statue of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas at the state Capitol.

For the second year in a row, Republican senators sent their House counterparts a proposal to honor the conservative justice with a Capitol monument. During a floor debate, Democratic lawmakers denounced the Georgia-born Thomas, who grew up in the segregated South and became the second Black justice to serve on the nation’s highest court in 1991. On Tuesday, Thomas was referred to as an “Uncle Tom,” a sellout who used his power on the supreme court to not only to dismantle the rights of Blacks, but also protections for women and gay people.

Republican Rep. Ben Watson, who sponsored Senate Bill 69, said he had a personal connection to Thomas’ mother and he wants to recognize the great achievements of a person whose hometown Pin Point lies within his coastal legislative district.

Thomas had to overcome major obstacles at a young age after a house fire left him homeless before moving in with grandparents in nearby Savannah.

Atlanta Democratic Sen. Emanuel Jones called Thomas an Uncle Tom from the chamber’s floor, a derisive term for a Black person who betrays other Black people.

“When we think about a person in the Black community who’s accomplished, but yet policies seek to subvert, some may even say suppress, the achievements and accomplishments of people of color; I couldn’t help but to think about that term in expressing my dissatisfaction with this particular legislation,” Jones said.

Plans for a Thomas monument advanced through the Senate and a House committee last year, but never came up for a vote in the House chamber to gain support the bill needed to earn a chance for the governor to sign it.

Funding for the statue would come from private donations. A committee will select the monument’s designers and determine its location either inside the Gold Dome or on the ground where a gallery of Georgians are honored with stone monuments.

In 1991, GOP President George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to succeed the court’s first Black justice, Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 as the civil rights movement reached a boiling point.

Watson said that Thomas was subjected to supreme court confirmation hearings marred by the worst type of political gamesmanship.

During the hearings, Anita Hill said Thomas had sexually harassed her while she was a lawyer working under his supervision. The controversy surrounding Thomas’ conservative legal positions during the hearings foretold the future as he would go on to be a leading opponent of affirmative action and would help strike down Roe v. Wade in 2022 as one of five justices who halted a constitutional right to abortion.

Thomas has recently called for the court to restrict gay rights and limit married couples’ access to birth control.

Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Grayson Democrat, said Thomas earned strong disdain from many Black people and other minorities, women and the LGTBQ community.

“As a reminder, just as Thomas succeeded, a judicial giant Chief Justice Thurgood, Thurgood Marshall, a fierce litigator for civil rights who was praised for taking a balanced approach to controversial and complicated issues,” Merritt said.

Republicans rejected a criticism that monuments should not be placed until a person is retired or no longer alive in order to avoid the possibility that they might do something to harm their reputation after an honor is cast in stone.

Georgia native and former President Jimmy Carter is the only person honored with a statue at the Capitol who is still alive. One other man, former governor and U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge, was still alive when a statue of him was erected on the Capitol grounds. Talmadge’s statue now stands in a park across from the Capitol.

Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte noted that despite Carter’s Republican detractors, he was someone whom both political party factions of Georgia legislators honored with a statue.

“Is it not true that the former president of the United States who is a former great governor of this state, there’s citizens and probably members of this body who took issue with his policies back when he was governor and even president of these United States but we respect that history in this body,” he said.

Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, was also criticized by lawmakers opposing putting up a monument to her husband. After the 2020 presidential election, Ginni Thomas sent text messages to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pushing for him to support then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the election, culminating with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“His wife also actively encouraged this coup of violence in an attempt to stop a peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our country’s history,” Merritt said.

Gwinnett County Democratic Sen. Nabilah Islam read out the names of 21 former elected officials and other Confederate leaders who have been recognized with statues and portraits at the Capitol despite dishonoring the nation and fighting against the rights of people of the same color as she said Thomas has.

“If you choose to pass this bill and honor Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in this way, we may make that mistake once more,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock of Decatur said Tuesday that her attempt last year to get a statue to Ginni Thomas to go up along with one of her husband’s was made in jest to point out the uncertainty regarding Thomas’ knowledge of his wife’s involvement in the Jan. 6th U.S. Capitol riot.

A brief effort on Tuesday by Democrats to insert a provision in the bill that would include a statue of civil rights activist and former Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis was withdrawn by Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

How Georgia could be become center stage in the 2024 presidential campaigns

Georgia Gov. Zell Miller in 1992 shrewdly used some of his power to maneuver the state towards the front of the pack of the presidential primary in order to boost the candidacy of his friend and fellow southerner Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.

The influence Georgia had on politics would diminish over the next two decades as the former Democratic stronghold evolved into reliable Republican territory. Meanwhile, Miller’s own support for a future two-term president waned. By the beginning of the 21st century, many of Georgia’s elected officials supported Republican policies. GOP candidates went on to dominate statewide elections for two decades.

In 2020, Georgia regained the nation’s attention as a battleground state, albeit partly because of unfounded conspiracy theories about stolen elections, fueled by former President Donald Trump and his allies. When Democratic candidate Joe Biden won the state’s 16 presidential electoral votes and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won runoffs over incumbent opponents for the U.S. Senate, Georgia’s transformation from blue to red to purple state continued.

Now, Georgia is a near lock to play an important role in determining who will be selected as the next president of the country in 2024.

As a nod to Georgia’s growing influence in the country’s political landscape, the national Democratic Party and Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State are endorsing the state moving up the presidential primary calendar – just not on the same timetable.

A plan approved by the Democratic National Committee this month calls for Georgia to join the early presidential primary calendar on Feb. 13, 2024, just two weeks before South Carolina would hold its primaries.

The Georgia Democratic Party has until June to demonstrate that it is capable of adhering to the party’s timeline.

Meanwhile, as first reported by the Associated Press, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger endorsed Georgia moving up on the 2028 presidential primary calendar, a nod to Georgia’s increasing influence in the national political landscape.

At a Jan. 24, Rotary Club of Atlanta meeting, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defended the integrity of Georgia’s elections and his refusal to overturn 2020 election results. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

“It has a good cross-section of engaged voters from both parties, and, as everyone seems to now recognize, we run great elections,” Raffensperger said.

Georgia held its 2022 midterm elections primary May 24. The state’s 2020 presidential primary was delayed until June 9 after the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled plans to hold the elections earlier.

Early primary states Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire have long grabbed the spotlight as election season unfolded, with the results of those elections and caucuses not only determining early favorites but also causing some candidates to drop out of the field.

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock, said that if Georgia moved up into the first several weeks of party primaries when voters pick their favored candidates to run for president, it could be a coup for the Peach State.

“This means our voters will have a bigger impact on who becomes a future president,” Bullock said. “If Georgia adopts this plan, we will have a full range of candidates because we know that very early on some candidates begin to drop off.”

The Republican National Committee did not respond to an email from the Georgia Recorder regarding the state’s role in the primary election

Bullock said that if Georgia is moved up earlier by the 2024 primary, it could benefit Republican candidates who have strong support in the state rather than Biden seeking his second term.

Georgia’s advantage as a battleground in the next couple of election cycles would boost the economy as more political ads, campaign visits, and other resources are poured into the state. The accelerated timeline would also benefit Georgia candidates regardless of their political affiliation, Bullock said.

“If there is a Georgia candidate like a (Sen.) Raphael Warnock or a Brian Kemp or somebody else who was running for the president that particular year, it would be very beneficial for them to be able to have a big send off here in Georgia if Georgia was say in the third week of the sweepstakes,” Bullock said.

Raffensperger’s position highlights the Democrats’ challenge in reordering their nominating calendar to elevate racially diverse electorates and de-emphasize Iowa and New Hampshire. Those predominantly white states have opened the nominating process for both major parties for decades and still lead Republicans’ 2024 calendar as it’s currently set — with national GOP officials showing little interest in reconsidering their slate.

The question is whether Democrats can find momentum among the Republicans who control the Georgia statehouse and with the national GOP forces necessary to make such a change.

The state’s growing swing state prominence could get a boost even if the primary calendar remains unchanged. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens expresses growing optimism that the Capital city will host the Democratic National Convention for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

The difference in where Georgia falls on the primary calendar requires both parties to agree to any changes, while a single party committee decides which city its convention will take place.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Fulton DA says 'decisions are imminent' on indictments in Trump 2020 election interference

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said Tuesday that decisions are imminent in an investigation into potential illegal interference by former President Donald Trump and his allies in the 2020 presidential election.

Willis’ comments regarding the timing of the case were made during a hearing where prosecutors asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney to delay public disclosure of a special grand jury’s report that makes recommendations on whether to pursue criminal charges against anyone involved in attempts to overturn the 2020 election. McBurney said he will decide in the coming days whether to publicly release the jury’s report. In Tuesday’s hearing, the judge heard arguments from the district attorney’s office and attorneys representing several media organizations.

Willis on Tuesday said she understands the media’s interest in the case, but she wants to protect the rights of potential future defendants while prosecution decisions are pending.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis requested on Tuesday that Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney delay the release of a special grand jury’s final report. Screen shot of Fulton County Superior Court livestream

“What the state does not want to see happen, and I don’t think that there’s any way that the court would be able to guarantee, is that if the report was released there somehow could be arguments made that it impacts the right for later individuals, multiple (people) to get a fair trial, to have a fair hearing to be able to be tried in this jurisdiction,” Willis said.

The special grand jury submitted a report this month after hearing from 75 witnesses dating back to last summer in the high-profile case that included testimony from reluctant witnesses like Trump’s ex-chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Willis’ investigation was boosted by the January 2021 public release of a recorded phone call in which Trump pressed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough ballots to overcome Biden’s victory.

At Willis’ request, Fulton’s circuit court judges appointed the special grand jury that operates under some different rules than a regular grand jury.

Special investigative grand juries can meet for as long as a year and recommend to the district attorney whether any crimes might have been committed based on the evidence. But unlike a regular grand jury, the special panels cannot render criminal indictments.

An attorney for the media organizations, Tom Clyde, said the jury’s report should be released in its entirety now and that approach is consistent with how the American judicial system works. He argued that the veil of secrecy that the special grand jury operated under while hearing from witnesses should not hold true for a final report that’s of enormous interest to the public.

“It is not unusual for a district attorney or prosecuting authority to be generally uncomfortable with having to release information during the progress of a case,” Clyde said. “But the judicial system time and time again has said when matters are brought into the court system we are going to require them to be made public because the faith of the public and the court system is much improved by operating in a public way.”



McBurney repeatedly questioned why the Fulton report should remain confidential when a similar report from a federal investigation was publicly released. Some of the same witnesses in that case appeared in the Fulton courtroom behind closed doors since last summer when the special grand jury started hearing from witnesses.

McBurney said that the publicity from the U.S. House Jan. 6th committee’s hearings that were broadcast on national TV haven’t appeared to rush the Justice Department into making rash decisions.

“If an argument the district attorney’s office is making may be post-indictment it makes all the sense in the world to disclose the report but before then you’re hamstringing the investigation and maybe putting inordinate pressure on someone to get these things,” McBurney said. “But that doesn’t seem to have made the wheels fall off the DOJ bus.”

Donald Wakeford, a special prosecutor who advised the jurors, said that it is uncertain how the testimony that played out publicly before Congress will affect the federal investigation because the DOJ operates in such secrecy and its grand jury proceedings are subject to much stricter requirements.

“This is not an opposition that is intended to march until the end of time and prevent public disclosure from what is in this report forever,” he said. “It is simply saying ‘now is not that time.’”

Clyde, however, dismissed the prosecutors’ argument that sealing the report for an undetermined period would protect potential targets’ rights. Besides, Clyde, pointed out that court documents are publicly disclosed even before indictments are handed down.

The Georgia law restricting court file access supports the media’s desire to get the information out, he said.

Clyde argued that the final report should have been considered public record once it was submitted to McBurney.

“The question is not whether it is submitted to a (court) clerk, the question is whether it is submitted to a judicial officer that needs to take action,” he said.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia AG takes lead in domestic terror cases after violent protests of planned Atlanta police training center

Leaders in Georgia are ready for action after protests over an Atlanta police public safety training facility erupted into violence and vandalism last week, including thrown Molotov cocktails, a patrol car set ablaze, a 26-year-old protester killed and a state trooper shot.

Georgia Republican Attorney General Chris Carr announced on Monday that he is preparing a case to bring domestic terrorism and multiple other felony charges against protesters who escalated a peaceful march into violence. Carr along with Gov. Brian Kemp and other lawmakers said protesters who caused damage to property in downtown Atlanta are facing serious felony charges that could serve as a warning to others who might escalate peaceful demonstrations to lawbreaking.

Protesters clashed with police in downtown Atlanta on Saturday night, destroying a police car and breaking windows in bank branches and a Peachtree Street office tower. In what police say represents the worst of “Stop Cop City” opposition for the new training facility, tensions heightened after the scene turned deadly on Wednesday when a Georgia State Trooper was shot and 26-year-old protester Manuel Esteban Paez Teran was shot and killed by troopers during a sweep to clear campers from Atlanta’s Intrenchment Creek Park. The 60-acre woods inside DeKalb County has had protesters who call themselves “forest defenders” encamped for more than a year.

Carr said the financial support behind a new training facility, which the Atlanta City Council also endorsed, strongly indicates the need to replace a center inside an old elementary school that leaks during a rainstorm.

The state’s top prosecutor has been granted authority to handle criminal cases involving domestic terrorism charges in recent years. In 2020, peaceful demonstrations in downtown Atlanta over racial and social injustices sometimes t urned violent as national guard troops were called in to help quell tensions.

“Here we have this group that has for over a year has been illegally sitting on this property and has been trying to stop the process of ensuring the community and law enforcement officers are safe and it’s gone on long enough,” Carr said Monday during an interview on North Georgia talk radio WDUN’s Martha Zoller Show.

“I’m confident that the facts will show these folks have engaged in DT and it provides for serious punishment and for a longer term if convicted,” Carr said.

The protesters behind “Stop Cop City” cite the project’s destruction of vanishing intown forest and desecration of native American ancestral grounds. An additional objection is the project will be located on the site of a former prison farm complex that was profitable due to the unpaid labor of incarcerated men.

A group of five Atlanta-area doctors, who are also involved with social justice organizations, wrote a letter saying the police’s response and ensuing narrative are all too common.

Police should stop unjustified use of toxic chemical irritants like tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition against protesters encamped on the property, they said.

“This fits within the context of a disturbing pattern and threat to public health whereby the USA has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world; perpetuated by a judicial and legislative system that targets Black and Indigenous peoples, migrants, those living in poverty, those who are unhoused, as well as environmental and social activists,” reads the letter that included signatures from Georgia Human Rights Clinic co-directors and doctors Michel Khoury and Amy Zeidan.

The people arrested in downtown Atlanta over the weekend and during an earlier sweep at the disputed parkland are nearly all white and in their early 20s.

In the past two years, state lawmakers have considered legislation which would have tightened restrictions on rallies and protests and added penalties for people in the crowd even if they didn’t take part in illegal activity. Kemp and newly elected Lt. Gov. Burt Jones have both mentioned tackling violent crime as a priority for this session.

Georgia officials were quick to note that most of the dozen or so people arrested within the last week lived outside the state.

“Law enforcement demonstrated how quickly we shut down those trying to import violence from other states, and we’ll continue to do so,” Kemp said.

The violence and damage to property caused last week were condemned by several Georgia lawmakers Monday.

Republican Sen. John Albers said people have a right to protest, but they cannot block streets or worse without paying a price.

“You do not have the right to squat on private property,” he said during Monday’s Senate chamber session. “You do not have the right to vandalize patrol cars or private property. You do not have the right to assault a citizen or a law enforcement officer.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Fulton grand jury report on attempts to overturn Trump’s 2020 Georgia election loss could soon be revealed

You could get your first glimpse soon into what a Fulton County special grand jury heard behind closed doors as it investigated efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to interfere in the results of the 2020 election.

The calls by several media groups for an immediate release of the grand jury’s findings into the lengthy investigation are set to come to a head at a hearing on Tuesday before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney.

Dozens of witnesses have testified in the Atlanta courthouse since last summer, including top state officials and close supporters and aides of the former president and dominant leader of the Republican party.

Legal experts predict that details of the grand jury’s report will begin trickling out depending on when criminal charges are filed, but that under state law some details may be kept from the public as the investigation continues.

McBurney, who oversaw the special investigation, has discretion over what information is revealed. However, don’t expect the full report to come out next week, said J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County District Attorney and criminal law professor at Western Carolina University.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ special grand jury was appointed last year to investigate whether Trump’s team interfered with Georgia’s 2020 presidential election that Trump lost to President Joe Biden by fewer than 12,000 votes.

“The judge will put some fire behind the district attorney and say, I’m going to order that this report be released in its entirety on such and such a date and portions of it may be released next week and you need to judge yourself accordingly,” Morgan said. “This report puts the D.A. in a quandary because the report says there have been certain crimes and certain persons should be prosecuted and if she doesn’t prosecute, it’s going to come back to bite her.”

In a press briefing on Friday, Morgan joined the Defend Democracy Project to discuss the Fulton case, which could deliver explosive national aftershocks, including the first-ever criminal indictment of a former president. Trump says he intends to run again in 2024.

Willis’ investigation was boosted by the January 2021 public release of a recorded phone call in which Trump pressed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough ballots to overcome Biden’s victory.

In the court circuit, a special investigative grand jury is appointed by a majority of the judges. Special investigative grand juries can recommend to the district attorney whether the crimes might have been committed based on the evidence.

Before a district attorney can even subpoena witnesses in a regular case, the case must be indicted before a regular grand jury.

Former U.S. Ambassador Norman Eisen, legal scholar and counsel in the first impeachment trial of Trump, said Fulton prosecutors may want to redact the names of key witnesses who could face threats. The timing of the details becoming public may hinge on when any indictments are handed down.

“The strong possibility is that Donald Trump and his co-conspirators have been recommended for criminal charges under multiple Georgia statutes for their attempted coup and assault on the 2020 election results,” Eisen said.

“While the great likelihood is that we’re going to see a recommendation of charges here, you just never know,” Eisen said. “The proof of the pudding is in the edict.”

Eisen was one of the authors of a Brookings Institute report that said Trump appears to be at substantial risk of prosecution in Georgia for several criminal charges that could include solicitation and conspiracy to commit election fraud and interfering in elections.

The Brookings report asserted that Trump and his cohorts, including 16 Georgia false electors, might have committed other crimes, including making false statements, improper influence on government officials, and forging documents.

Among the witnesses who testified during the months-long grand jury probe were Raffensperger, Trump’s ex-chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer.

Eisen said that the Fulton probe along with a separate U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the attempted coup are tipping points in American justice.

The U.S. House Jan. 6 select committee report alleges obstruction of probable cause findings regarding Trump. The Department of Justice has been referred to investigate and possibly prosecute Trump over his attempts to overturn his election results.

“It’s vitally important for the future of our democracy, that there be accountability for this very serious misconduct by Donald Trump and others who attempt to overthrow the legitimate outcome of election results,” Eisen said. “Because I believe this special grand jury report likely reflects that. I think it will be an important document in the history and in the future of American democracy.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Biden speaks of redeeming America’s soul during visit to Martin Luther King’s hometown church

Democratic President Joe Biden took to the pulpit Sunday at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once delivered many powerful and eloquent sermons in the final years of his life.

With an invitation from Ebenezer pastor and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Biden on Sunday became the first sitting president to preach from the pulpit of downtown Atlanta church on what would’ve been the 94th birthday for the slain civil rights leader. Biden’s speech was about the hard path it takes to achieve necessary changes, which exemplifies King’s struggle for equality for Black people.

Despite King’s death at 39 years old, Biden said King’s legacy endures because he remained optimistic while understanding that progress was never easy. The leader of the civil rights movement preached powerful sermons and spread his call for nonviolent social change across many cities before his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Biden on Sunday reflected on some of the social and racial progress made in recent years, including Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson becoming the first Black woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The president also encouraged people to emulate King’s traits as the fight for justice continues.

“It’s always possible that things do get better, in our march toward a more perfect union,” Biden said. “But at this inflection point, we know there’s a lot of work that has to continue in economic justice, civil rights, voting rights, and protecting our democracy. And I’m remembering that our job is to redeem the soul of America.”



State and federal offices are closed for the holiday Monday honoring King. Numerous events honoring the civil rights activist were held throughout the weekend.

On Friday, state officials and members of King’s family gathered at the state Capitol, not far from King’s boyhood home, for Georgia’s 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration of Service.

The keynote speaker, Georgia Power CEO and president Chris Womack, was introduced by former Columbus Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre, who returned to the Gold Dome while awaiting his confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas.

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns credited Smyre for his role in making King’s birthday a state holiday in 1984 and securing support for a statue to honor him on the Georgia Capitol grounds in 2017. The state legislation creating the holiday that passed in 1984 didn’t mention King by name, a strategy to neutralize opposition. Bills to create a state holiday had failed in the Georgia Legislature until the U.S. Congress designated the third Monday in January as a federal holiday honoring King the year before.

Womack, a Black man who became the CEO and chairman of the state’s largest utility company in 2021, said King’s dream remains unfulfilled long after the Declaration of Independence decreed “all men are created equal” in 1776.

As part of Womack’s call to keep King’s legacy alive, businesses should continue to diversify their workforce and provide basic necessities to those in need, Womack said.

“We must not accept that condition as reality,” he said. “We must not let that condition reside unattended.”

“We must work collectively with people that are trying to help whether it’s food kitchens, whether it’s shelters, whether it’s need for additional housing,” Womack said. “Things like homelessness, we must not accept that as a reality. We must establish goals in our community that we’re going to completely eliminate (homelessness).”

Several awards were presented at the state’s celebration. The Rita Jackson Samuels Founders Award went to Forest Park executive Wanda Okunoren-Meadows; Albany civil rights leader J.T. Johnson was given the Andrew J. Young Humanitarian Award; Alabama Rev. Fred Taylor received the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery Civil Rights Award; and Georgia Sen. Emmanuel Jones, a Columbus Democrat, earned the John Lewis Lifetime Achievement award.

King’s grandniece Farris Christine Watkins was also presented with the proclamation for King’s holiday.

According to a Harris national poll conducted a year before King’s murder, 75% of the American public disapproved of him. Jim Crow law supporters in the Deep South, as well as many moderate whites in other parts of the nation, opposed full integration and equal treatment of Black people.

Democratic state Sen. Nikki Merritt said Friday that the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus remains dedicated to achieving many of King’s unfulfilled dreams, including improved access to health care, jobs, and education.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp offered a prayer at the Friday ceremony for people who suffered in the tornadoes that ripped through Georgia the day before. The storm claimed the lives of a five-year-old boy and a Department of Transportation employee who was working to clear a road.

Kemp said King’s message of racial equality and moral responsibility still resonates today as he noted King faced hatred and prejudice and threats against his family.

Kemp said he views the racial progress in Georgia as something that lives on in the legacy of the civil rights leader, who faced and overcame so many obstacles.

“Each year we mark this occasion, not just to remember Dr. King or his wisdom, not just to celebrate his contribution to our state and nation, but also to remember his mission, his actions and his inspiring message,” Kemp said. “To remember the man is to consider the man and each of us must consider how we build on his timeless legacy in our own unique ways.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia election officials begin audit of 2022 runoff — as drama drags on over state’s 2020 vote

A statewide audit of Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff begins on Wednesday allowing counties the chance to confirm the results of Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeating Republican nominee Herschel Walker by 100,000 votes.

Meanwhile, the start of the audit coincides with urges by election reform groups and cybersecurity experts that federal authorities investigate voting system breaches that played out in south Georgia and several other states in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

On Tuesday, election reform groups and cybersecurity experts sent a letter calling upon the FBI, Department of Justice and the nation’s top cybersecurity agency to open a probe into what appears to have been a multi-state plot to access and copy election system hard drives and software in Georgia’s Coffee County, Michigan, Nevada and other states.

As stated in the letter, the investigation can be incorporated into the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into whether Donald Trump and his allies interfered with the transfer of power after Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

The letter was signed by election reform group Free Speech For People and a dozen higher education election security experts, former election officials and legal experts, as well as the Coalition for Good Governance, which is involved in a long legal battle with Georgia over the vulnerability of the state’s electronic voting equipment from Dominion Voting Systems.

Evidence uncovered in the Georgia election lawsuit appears to reveal coordinated breaches were carried out by attorney Sidney Powell and other lawyers working on behalf of Trump’s campaign to discredit the 2020 election results.

The letter warns that Conspiracy theorists and domestic terrorists may attempt to disrupt more elections using the information gathered in the breaches

“Because this plot was orchestrated by individuals currently under investigation for their attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, it is possible that the coordinated effort to obtain voting system software was also part of an ongoing conspiracy to overturn elections,” the letter said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit uncovered video surveillance footage of a January 2021 breach at Coffee County’s election office. Additionally, the letter urged the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency to ensure better safeguards are in place and to assess whether other elections since 2020 may have been compromised.

“Our lawsuit uncovered evidence that actors working at a national level in Washington DC, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Colorado, Florida and other states convinced Coffee County officials and political leaders to give them uninhibited access to Georgia’s Dominion Voting System software in the aftermath of the November 2020 election and January 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of Coalition for Good Governance. “Federal law enforcement agencies are needed to pursue the potential criminal activities and hold those involved accountable. Further, federal oversight to secure the state’s election system is crucially important.”

The plaintiffs are pushing for the state to switch to hand-marked paper ballots instead of the Dominion Voting Systems ballot-marking devices that were rolled out statewide in 2020 and presented by the Georgia secretary of state’s office as a more secure voting method since the machines produce auditable printed paper ballots.

The coalition and plaintiffs attorneys have been critical of the handling of the Coffee County case by the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Election Board for not pursuing “a vigorous and swift investigation.” This summer, the State Election Board finally requested for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to become involved, more than a year after state elections officials were first informed that the password to Coffee’s election server no longer worked and that a notorious Trump supporter’s business card was found near the former election director’s computer.

However, state election officials have said there is no evidence that Georgia’s actual election results have been compromised and the criminal investigation is still ongoing. On Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office held a kickoff event for an audit of the 2022 U.S. Senate runoff. Twenty 10-sided dice were rolled to determine the batches of ballots that will be audited.

Blake Evans, Georgia’s state election director, said the Nov. 8 general election audit was successful in confirming the results, and this latest audit is another opportunity of “audit cultural building” following in a runoff that drew more than 3.5 million voters.

State law requires an audit after a general election, but runoff participation is at the discretion of county election officials. Online records of the audits will be kept by the counties for public access. All but 22 Georgia counties opted to participate in runoff audits. In 2020, the state ran a much more time consuming hand count of the five million ballots cast in the presidential election in which Biden edged out Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes.



Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia Decides 2022: Voters get final say on Senate race, balance of power on Election Day

A busy early voting period wrapped up Friday with more than 1.8 million Georgians having cast in-person votes in the runoff pitting Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock against Republican Herschel Walker.

A large turnout is also expected at the polls Tuesday as Georgia voters have their last opportunity to settle a high-stakes election that is far outperforming turnout in runoffs in 2016 and 2018, but lags behind a pair of Senate runoffs in January 2021 when more than 1 million absentee ballot votes spurred Democratic challengers Warnock and Jon Ossoff to upsets over Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

Some counties opened early voting sites a few days before Thanksgiving, but the numbers began to soar over the holiday weekend when the Georgia Supreme Court allowed voting on Saturday and continued through the week in Georgia’s 159 counties. Most polls suggest the race is a dead heat.

Under Georgia’s 2021 state election law, county officials were legally only required to offer one week of advanced voting for the runoff. In contrast, the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff was held two months after the general election, offering three weeks of early voting and many more opportunities to turn in absentee ballots.

While the early voting period for the Nov. 8 general election came off with few reports of long lines across Georgia, the abbreviated runoff window saw long lines at the polls in the heavily populated metro Atlanta area and other population centers in the state.

It took about 40 minutes on Friday before Clayton County apartment manager Bree Garrett could cast her vote for Warnock. She said it was worth the wait since Warnock will be an ally for the next six years as she worries about the direction of political policies and court cases heading into the presidential election in 2024.

The Democrats’ candidates in statewide races didn’t fare well on Nov. 8, with Republicans winning or retaining seats for governor, secretary of state, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

“This (Nov. 8) didn’t go the way I wanted it to so that makes this runoff even more meaningful since it gives Rev. Warnock a full term and keeps someone in office who will protect my rights,” Garrett said.

The long waits to cast ballots during the Senate runoff also reignited the finger-pointing between Georgia’s Republican secretary of state officials, who claim that record turnout proved that the 2021 election law overhaul doesn’t make it harder to vote. Meanwhile, Democrats and voting rights organizations claim the long lines are a sign of voter suppression created by the Republican lawmakers’ election law overhaul that meant fewer days for voters to come out and made it harder to meet deadlines to vote by mail.

On Sunday, Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, spent two hours in line at Rome’s recreation center, one of Floyd County’s two early voting sites that opened for a four hour block on the weekend.

It has been a hectic leadup to the runoff as Yaqoob Mahmood’s group mobilizes voters in support of Warnock, complicated by the condensed period and confusion caused by the state and national Republican Party unsuccessfully fighting to prevent counties from opening polls to Saturday advanced voting.

Still, she said that Asian-American voters are responding to the call to vote and is optimistic of replicating the Democrats’ success in the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff when Warnock and Ossoff were elected.

“Typically, Republican voters tend to show up on Election Day, and Democrats are lagging behind,” Yaqoob Mahmood said. “But because we’ve had such a shortened window for early voting, we know that our numbers will continue through Election Day. And we’ll make sure that we get everyone out to vote by Tuesday.”

Before heading to their designated polling place on Tuesday, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger suggests checking online for wait times. A number of counties post that information, including Cobb, Clayton, Forsyth, Richmond, Gwinnett, Fulton, and DeKalb. Georgians can find their designated precinct location and find other voting information on the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page.

“Georgia’s voting system is working well,” Raffensperger said. “While some Counties are seeing more voter turnout than they anticipated, most have found a way to manage voter wait-times, and I appreciate the election officials and workers across Georgia who are doing their level-best to accommodate our record turnout.”

On Thursday night, Warnock and Walker wound down their bitter and expensive campaigns with large crowds attending rallies that featured prominent party figures.

Warnock’s re-election bid received a second visit to Atlanta within several weeks from former President Barack Obama while Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham attended a Woodstock rally on Walker’s behalf.

Obama and the senator from South Carolina noted the significance of races, even if it no longer determines the balance of power in Congress. With Warnock’s victory, Democrats would hold 51 Senate seats, allowing them more leeway in close votes on legislation, and also prevent Republicans from securing a filibuster-proof majority in the next election cycle.

Graham noted that a 50-50 split means Senate committees are evenly divided.

“If it’s 51-49, they have one more vote on every committee than us,” he said on Thursday.
“The bottom line is it really changes the structure of the Senate, but it’s not about 51 it’s about (Walker). They dropped $170 million on this guy’s head. This is the nastiest campaign I’ve seen in my entire life.”

Aside from some extended wait times, there are also issues cropping up again over absentee ballots and vote tabulation, both issues unresolved from the 2020 presidential election. There were rampant, unfounded allegations that massive voter fraud cost Republican Donald Trump the presidency to Joe Biden. The fallout led Georgia’s GOP lawmakers to reshape the election rules by tightening deadlines for absentee ballots, banning around-the-clock absentee drop boxes, and requiring more timely election results reporting.

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia continued their legal fight against the Cobb County Board of Elections for failing to mail out ballots to more than 1,000 voters for the second time this election cycle.

This follows earlier legal action just one month ago when Cobb County had failed to send absentee ballots to voters for the general election.

In the Nov. 8 general election, Cobb extended the deadline to receive ballots until Nov. 14 after election officials said that procedural errors resulted in the count failing to send the vote-by-mail ballots. The civil rights organizations were asking a judge on Friday to require the county to extend the absentee deadline to Dec. 9, the same deadline as for military and overseas ballots, and for the county to deliver ballots to homebound voters and notify affected voters of the changes.

“For the second time in a matter of weeks, many Cobb County voters are on the verge of disenfranchisement because they have not yet received their absentee ballots,” said Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights attorney at the ACLU of Georgia. “And again, we are seeing the effects of Georgia’s anti-voter law, SB 202, which shortened the runoff cycle by more than half. The law has hampered elections administrators’ ability to do their job, and burdened eligible voters’ access to the ballot box. We’re back in court today to make sure that voters who did everything right are able to make their voices heard during this election.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Can Warnock or Walker win over the 81,000 Georgians who voted for the Libertarian in November?

What is to become of the 81,278 voters who marked their ballots for Libertarian Chase Oliver in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race? Will those voters return to the polls for the Dec. 6 runoff between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker?

Those 81,278 Georgians could sway the pivotal Senate race, but there are doubts among experts whether those voters who chose a Libertarian in Round 1 will even show up for the Dec. 6 runoff for Round 2.

“Libertarian voters usually lean more conservative, and thus toward Republican candidates when they must pick between only the two major parties’ candidates,” said Dr. Amy Steigerwalt, associate chair of the Political Science department at Georgia State University.

“The issue, however, is that Libertarian votes are a sort of protest vote, signaling that neither of the major party candidates is one the voter supports. It is thus much more likely that those voters will simply stay home during the runoff.”

On Libertarian voters, Charles Bullock, professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia, said, “They’ll have an impact if they vote, but they are less likely to vote than individuals who turned out and voted for Walker or Warnock.”

Bullock estimates that as many as two-thirds of those 81,278 votes the Libertarian Oliver received may be Republicans who could not bring themselves to vote for Walker.

“I say two-thirds because three times as many people voted Libertarian in the Senate contest as voted Libertarian for governor,” he said. “So these individuals think of themselves as Republicans, but they had serious concerns about Herschel Walker.”

So, Brian Kemp was an easy choice for governor for Libertarians and they lined up behind him. Libertarians, who lean conservative, did not like Walker for the most part and voted for Oliver.

And now that the Democrats were able to keep control of the Senate, Bullock feels people who “parked their vote” with the Libertarian Oliver have even less incentive to come out to the polls.

One of the voters who chose Libertarian candidate Oliver over Warnock and Walker in the Nov. 8 race is going to come out to vote in the runoff. He’s just not sure which candidate is going to get his vote.

“I’m still looking at both candidates because I haven’t made a decision yet,” said Philip, a reliably Republican voter from Forsyth County who participated in a survey of voters conducted this fall by the University of Georgia. He declined to give his last name. Philip says he voted for the Libertarian Oliver because of concerns about Walker’s fitness for the job.

“It’s easier to judge a candidate if they have some type of political path,” Philip said. “I have that with Warnock and while there are things he’s voted for that I haven’t been a fan of, there are other things he’s done well. I don’t have that with Walker. I am going to vote, though.”

Many other voters who cast a ballot for the Libertarian Oliver cannot bear to vote for either Walker or Warnock and that should concern Walker’s camp, Steigerwalt said.

“The fear, especially for Walker’s campaign, is that all of the people who declined to vote in his race the first time, and all of those who cast Libertarian votes, will simply not show up for the runoff,” Steigerwalt said. “Add to that the traditional decrease we see from general election turnout to run-off turnout, as well as evidence that there quite a few Kemp-Warnock voters in the general election, and the signs suggest Walker has to do a lot of work simply to shore up support from Republican voters who are concerned about his candidacy.”

Middle is widening

Ted Metz, who was the Libertarian candidate for Georgia Secretary of State, said in an email that Georgians who voted for Oliver likely still have strong policy differences with both of the men now in the Dec. 6 runoff.

“My belief is that people (real people, not phantom voters) who turn out to vote only do so if they feel that their vote will affect the change they desire, or make a statement,” Metz wrote.

He is sure, however, that the middle is widening, which is ground Walker and Warnock want to control in the run-off.

“What I do know is that the population of voters in the US is no longer as broadly polarized as it has been in the past,” Metz wrote.

Is there anything that could sway a Libertarian to vote for Walker or Warnock, perhaps a change in their messaging in the last two weeks?

It’s not likely because Metz ran off a list of Libertarian policies for the two camps to accede to, including “ending the Fed, ending the IRS, ending the DEA, ending the FDA, ending the Dept. of Education, the EPA, the FBI, the DOJ, and every other agency that is not enumerated in the Constitution under Art. 1, Sect. 8.”

Oliver did not respond to requests for comment, but he told Reason, a Libertarian magazine, he wants to stay involved in the runoff as a facilitator.

“I will be reaching out to both campaigns to host a forum, where they can come speak long-form to Libertarian, independent voters and seek to earn their vote if they so choose,” Oliver said.

“I think it’s still a very wide-open race for this runoff campaign, and I think that should really implore both the major-party candidates to start reaching out and speaking to Libertarian voters and their values, because that’s how they’re going to win this race.”

Oliver is not apologizing for taking the Senate race to a runoff.

“I wanted to be an honest broker,” Oliver told The Guardian newspaper. “I’m hoping that whoever wins this runoff reaches across the aisle a bit more and actually does some real legislating.”

One question that would be interesting to find an answer to is where did the 115,000 voters that cast ballots for Libertarian Shane Hazel in the 2020 Senate race between Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff and incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue end up in the Jan. 6 runoff two years ago?

Did a significant number choose Ossoff and push him across the finish line? Or did Ossoff win because President Donald Trump poisoned the water for Perdue with claims the election was rigged.

“It would be awfully hard to find that out,” Bullock said.

One thing is certain. Hazel, who ran for governor this election cycle, is not going to push Libertarians toward Walker or Warnock.

“Nobody likes these guys anymore,” Hazel said after an Atlanta Press Club debate when he played disruptor on stage with Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. “They have bankrupted America.

“Why do I have to go out there and lend my name to somebody who is going to use force and coercion.”



Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Judge rules in favor of Georgia early voting in Senate runoff

A Fulton County judge is clearing the path for Georgia’s local election officials to have the option of offering early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving ahead of the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoffs.

Late Friday afternoon, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign, the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that argued that the secretary of state’s office was misapplying a law by prohibiting early voting on a Saturday that falls within two days after a holiday.

Following the Nov. 8 midterm election when both Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker couldn’t avoid a runoff, the secretary of state’s office issued guidelines for the Senate runoff that said that it was illegal to have the polls open on Saturday, Nov. 26. That is two days after Thanksgiving and a day after a state holiday on Friday.

During a court hearing on Friday, Cox mentioned that many voters like himself are busy working on weekdays, so a weekend voting day would be the most convenient option.

The judge said in his order that, while the Georgia code mentions Saturday advanced voting for general and primary elections, runoff elections are not specifically referenced in the law.

The secretary of state’s office said it plans to appeal the ruling, which means county election administrators and voters may not know until early next week whether the Fulton court order is in effect.

Warnock is in the runoff against Walker following the Nov. 8 midterm election after neither candidate received more than the 50% of votes required by Georgia law to declare a winner.

Warnock’s campaign manager and the executive directors of the state and senate Democratic Party organizations released a statement saying that they look forward to counties announcing that they will provide Georgians the opportunity to cast their ballots on Nov. 26.

“Allowing for Saturday early voting is a win for every Georgia voter, but especially for workers and students who will have a greater opportunity to make their voices heard in this election,” the statement said.

A spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the changes made in the law after the 2020 election were intended to provide more uniformity and accused the Democrats of twisting the law to pressure counties close to the election in an effort to gain a partisan advantage.

During the Friday hearing, Uzoma Nkwonta, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, noted that last week both Raffensperger and one of his top deputies publicly stated that early voting would be allowed the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Fulton County was the first local election office to announce it would use the optional Saturday by opening polls Nov. 26-Dec. 2 from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m.

Georgia law specifies that in-person voting can begin as soon as possible prior to a primary and general election, but no later than the second Monday before the runoff date. Early voting sites can be open on the third Saturday of the month if a state holiday precedes the prior weekend.

The Dec. 6 runoff, however, does not fit the timeline listed in the code since the third Saturday bleeds into the midterm certification window.

Instead, the secretary of state’s office has said the state law requires counties to start the runoff’s week-long advanced voting on Nov. 28.

Warnock has said it is crucial to have as many days of early voting as possible since the Republican-backed 2021 election law overhaul shortens the time between general elections and runoffs and reduces early voting days.


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia’s young voters ready for Dec. 6 Senate runoff after new election rules tripped up some in midterms

Georgia Tech junior Alex Ames said that the state’s new voting law put some of her college friends in a bind when their absentee ballots did not arrive in time to be counted for the midterm elections on Nov. 8.

Ames was among a group of college students and a coalition of voting rights organizations imploring local election officials to expand the access to the ballot box in the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoff, which is in a condensed window that overlaps with final exams and the holiday break.

The Dec. 6 runoff pitting Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock against Republican Herschel Walker provides another example of how the state’s voting law overhaul in 2021 is changing how elections are run. In the Nov. 8 midterm, there was record early voter turnout for a Georgia midterm, and the turnout for voters under 30 across the country was the second highest for a midterm in at least three decades.

Ames said that college students and other young adults are highly energized for the election despite some of the barriers now in place that make it harder to vote.

As a result of Georgia’s Senate Bill 202 voting law, the window for requesting and returning absentee ballots was shortened, and the runoff schedule was compressed from nine weeks to four weeks after Election Day, reducing early voting opportunities.

The Senate runoff that will begin in most places on Nov. 28 won’t offer Saturday early voting, since it occurs just after Thanksgiving and a state holiday once dedicated to honor of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

Ames, an organizer with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, was joined by other activists on Monday in recommending that county election officials offer a Sunday early voting day, extend the weekday hours and open up polling stations on college campuses for the runoff. She said that she has friends in Oregon who returned their Georgia absentee ballots as soon as they were mailed to them but it didn’t arrive in time to be counted.

“I have a friend in Washington D.C. who had to pay for a flight back home on Election Day because when they requested their ballot it had not arrived,” Ames said during a press conference hosted at Georgia Tech by Progress Georgia and Georgia Organizers for Active Transformation. “I have friends at Georgia Tech who had to miss a day a class to drive back home to vote in his district.

“Vote by mail is a critical option that should be available to every voter to cast their ballots especially since this runoff coincides with final exams, the end of the semester and holiday,” Ames said.

According to the secretary of state’s office, more than 244,000 absentee ballots were cast for this year’s midterm, up from 2018’s midterm count of 223,000. As a result of the pandemic, state election officials adopted emergency rules during the 2020 presidential election, which resulted in more than 1.2 million absentee ballots being cast by mail and drop boxes.

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state, said that the shortened runoff time to four weeks was the standard for many years in Georgia until a federal lawsuit changed it to nine weeks to give more time for overseas and military ballots. Georgia officials were able to run a successful midterm because of changes from SB 202, court rulings and the State Election Board, he said.

“If you remember Paul Coverdell was elected in a four-week runoff and Saxby (Chambliss) had a four-week run off,” Sterling said about the former U.S. senators at a Nov. 9 press conference. “The state has executed four-week runoffs in the past, with early voting, with no-excuse absentee and with Election Day voting. This is not the first time we’ve had to do this. This is not that unique.”



When Republican Donald Trump lost several key battleground states like Georgia, unfounded claims of a stolen 2020 presidential election persisted through this year’s midterm. This resulted in a wave of misinformation and major changes to state election laws, which Republicans claim restored integrity and Democrats and civil rights organizations claim disenfranchised Black voters, young people and other marginalized groups with new restrictions.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that as local election workers prepare for the quick turnaround for the runoff, that the midterm election proves that they can perform at the highest level.

Across the state there was an average two minutes wait time for the 1.4 million voters who came out on Election Day. The new voting law requires local elections to have wait times less than one hour. And a controversial provision made it illegal to provide water or other refreshments to voters standing in line.

The secretary of state’s office says that there were no major problems reported on a new texting line for poll works to report any threats to staff and voters or other problems that surfaced in Georgia’s recent elections.

At a Jan. 24, Rotary Club of Atlanta meeting, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defended the integrity of Georgia’s elections and his refusal to overturn 2020 election results. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

“I read online that there was a person who wanted to test our line warming law so he loaded his car with boxes and cases of bottled water to get the motors in line,” Raffensperger said at a press conference this month at the state Capitol. “He started driving around and his problem was he couldn’t find any lines. And he even said in the article, ‘the system is running so smoothly today that no one lined up in the sun.’

“The credit for that goes to the counties and it goes to the voters,” Raffensperger said. “The voters took record advantage of pre-Election Day voting. They shattered the records for both absentee by mail and early in person voting in a midterm.”

Georgia’s relatively glitch-free election was a similar experience for the majority of voters across the country with voting rights advocates and state election administrators reporting few, if any, major problems.

Georgia’s early voting numbers of 2.5 million ballots cast by Nov. 4 were 20% higher from than the previous record in the 2018 midterms, leading to projections from state officials that another 2 million Georgians could show up at the polls on Election Day.

Progressive voting rights groups point out the new law explicitly allowing Georgia voters to challenge voter eligibility an unlimited number of times was a way to encourage situations like 65,000 voters who had their registration status questioned in the Nov. 8 midterm.

Raffensperger has said that he’d like to see the state Legislature revamp that section of the law in order to prevent the large mass challenges like in Gwinnett County where the local county election board rejected the majority of 37,000 complaints. In Gwinnett, 10 election workers combed through challenges and found many eligible college students, seniors, and disabled voters.

Upon arriving at the polls, some Georgia voters were informed that their eligibility had been officially challenged, forcing them to cast a provisional ballot. The new election rules also prohibited the counting of provisional ballots if a voter showed up at the wrong precinct before 5 p.m. on Election Day.

The number of provisional ballots cast this year is a little over 10,000, down from over 12,000 in the 2018 midterm.

A report from the international Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said that while voter challenges can be one way to remedy and correct inaccuracies in the voter list, such mass challenges in states like Georgia and Michigan raised concerns about potential voter suppression.

The Poland-based organization set up observation teams in multiple states, including Georgia, for the midterm elections.

“The Nov. 8 midterm congressional elections were competitive and professionally managed, with active voter participation,” the report said, “However, the noted efforts to undermine voters’ trust in the electoral process by baselessly questioning its integrity can result in systemic challenges. Campaigning was free but highly polarized and marred by harsh rhetoric. In many cases, partisan redistricting resulted in uncompetitive constituencies.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

An Election Day like no other: Georgians again center of political universe Tuesday after record early voting

Georgians voted early this year in greater numbers than in any midterm election before, likely foreshadowing that next Tuesday will require some patience from voters who might face long lines to cast ballots.

In Georgia, the more than 2.5 million early voters encountered some minor glitches.

Election administrators and voter protection groups are prepared to keep an eye out for people trying to interfere with the voting process on Election Day – and in the aftermath leading up to certification. Election officials are bracing for threats to the voting system fueled by conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday’s pivotal election includes races for U.S. Senate, governor, congress, attorney general, secretary of state, lieutenant governor, and state Legislature.

This election features a rematch between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and former Democratic House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. And Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is defending his seat against a challenge from University of Georgia football legend and Republican nominee Herschel Walker.

Each of the four candidates is holding election night watch parties around metro Atlanta, with GOP candidates congregating at The Battery next to the Atlanta Braves’ home field. The polls predict at least a couple of close races in statewide races that could be too tight to call until at least Wednesday. And runoffs seem likely in some key races.

Fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud after the 2020 election, county election officials across Georgia have dealt with a rise in the numbers of mass voter eligibility challenges, state voting law overhauls and candidates denying the election results. And there’s also the precinct access that poll watchers have, which allows people to scrutinize the voting process. But it also creates more opportunity for abuse through voter intimidation and a platform for unfounded claims of voting fraud.

Since the early voting period ended on Friday, more than 34 million people have voted across the nation. Georgia’s early voting numbers are up well over 34% from the previous record in the 2018 midterms, putting the election much closer to the overall record of ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election.

The Center for Election Innovation & Research say incidents of poll watchers misbehaving have been anecdotal, not widespread, over the early voting period across the country.

“It seems like a lot of voters are on edge right now and as we hear reports of attempted voter intimidation, they are very sporadic,” the center’s executive director David Becker said. “Over 30 million voters have voted in complete safety by mail or in person early or on election day, as they can in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.

“And there would be nothing that extremists and election deniers would like more than for voters to feel scared about whether they should vote, and they shouldn’t,” Becker said. “Voters are showing that you can vote in complete safety in this election.”

Becker said it’s important for people to set realistic expectations once the polls close since it’s normal for ballot counting to sometimes take awhile as election workers work diligently often 24 hours a day to tally the vote.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his office will monitor everything on Election Day from an Atlanta command center with help from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the National Guard, Georgia State Patrol and cybersecurity experts.

Over 80 counties have also subscribed to a poll worker protection texting tool that can alert county and state election directors as well as local law enforcement depending on the severity of the incident.

“We think that helps assure that we have a safe environment,” Raffensperger said. “We know we have honest elections in Georgia.”

As early voting reached its final day, long lines were reported at polling stations in Atlanta and Macon, as polling stations faced the highest turnout of the three week period.

Georgia’s voting law overhaul of 2021 added identification requirements for absentee ballots, provisional ballot restrictions for showing up at the wrong precinct, and one of the requirements to speed up the vote tabulation process is that the county must scan the absentee ballots early.

“We think that helps expedite the process,” Raffensperger said. “We’ll get those results as quickly as we can close polling locations. It’s never soon enough. I understand that, but we want to have them get those results. And we expect a very strong turnout this coming Tuesday.”

That Republican-backd 2021 voting law also spelled out that Georgians can make an unlimited number of challenges to a voter’s eligibility

Voting rights groups like Common Cause Georgia have been working with other organizations to provide people with information about some of the changes in election law and setting up a phone hotline for voters to call for assistance.

Common Cause Georgia executive director Aunna Dennis said that large turnout can be attributed to the resilience of Georgia voters in spite of the amount of misinformation, voter vigilantes and election deniers trying to subvert the election system.

In response to the new voting law, progressive activists had encouraged Georgians to vote in person during the early voting period rather than wait until Election Day in order to resolve any issues that may arise. In the meantime, in pursuit of “stop the steal” conspiracy theories peddled by Trump loyalists, election deniers are urging people to vote as late as possible on Election Day.

Those groups continue to monitor what they say are systematic attempts by partisan voter monitoring groups to disenfranchise voters in Georgia. County election boards have overwhelmingly rejected attempts to block hundreds of thousands of voters whose eligibility has been questioned, but Tuesday’s voters will also face the same issue. Those challenged voters who cannot quickly resolve whatever issue is at hand will need to cast a provisional vote and come back later to prove their eligibility.

Dennis said that Common Cause has heard from voters reported not receiving absentee ballots or not being notified in a timely manner that new provisions such as a wet signature or their ID numbers were not completed.

The idea is to have many more late voters on Election Day thwart the alleged scheme by Democrats to commit fraud because there won’t be time to pull off the deception. Election officials are aware of those attempts to delay the counting of ballots in a bid to discredit the legitimacy of the results.

Bartow County Election Supervisor Joseph Kirk said that larger counties will have multiple absentee uploads throughout the night, which will lead to major changes in reported results because of the size of those batches.

The new law requires a more timely posting of the results than in the past, with the first reports expected to come in soon after the polls close Tuesday at 7 pm.

Kirk said that some delays will still be caused by the counting of overseas ballots, service member votes and people who still need their eligibility to be backed up with more identification before they become official.

“Provisional ballots are counted after Election Day, either based on actions the voter takes to show us a photo ID or other documentation or research we need to make sure that voters are actually eligible and their ballots can be counted,” Kirk said. “Challenged ballots are similar to provisional ballots and those hearings may happen after Election Day.”

A risk limiting audit will be conducted by Georgia’s counties after the election to verify the accuracy of the results. That process is designed to also see how the paper ballots compare to the results of the electronic voting system.

There’s plenty of work to be done to make sure the election results are accurate, Kirk said.

“Calling results on election night. usually works out pretty well but it can add to mistrust when we have really tight races and we may not know who wins on election night,” Kirk said. “Folks get used to the idea that they should know who won before they go to bed. And that’s simply not how elections work and never how elections worked.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia Supreme Court hands supporters of Confederate statues in public squares partial setback

The Georgia Supreme Court just handed a mixed bag to supporters of keeping monuments commemorating the Confederacy on their historic courthouse lawn perches at public expense.

On Tuesday, the justices upheld a state Court of Appeals’ dismissal of lawsuits filed by Sons of Confederate Veterans against Newton and Henry counties commissioners over their removal of Confederate monuments because the organizations lacked standing to sue the counties since they have not shown that its members live in those communities.

The state’s top court ruled, however, that Newton County resident T. Davis Humphries is legally entitled to sue her local government for voting in 2020 to remove a Confederate monument from Covington’s downtown square.

In Georgia, dozens of Confederate statues were erected in prominent places like courthouse squares during the Jim Crow era and have been considered symbols of white supremacy and race. Georgia’s most famous Confederate memorial to the Lost Cause myth is the massive bas relief carving on Stone Mountain, where park board officials have considered scaling back some of the tributes.

The presiding justice wrote that the case has far-reaching implications, and plaintiffs must prove that their injury is resolvable through a court process.

“This case is about a highly controversial subject: whether local communities must continue displaying (and maintaining at public expense) monuments that celebrate the Confederacy and its long-dead supporters, despite those communities finding such celebration repugnant,” Presiding Justice Nels S.D. Peterson wrote inTuesday’s opinion. “But nothing about those monuments is at issue in this appeal.”

Now, the case will return to the lower court to determine if Humprhies can be awarded injunctive relief, which prevents or permits a party from acting in a certain way.

“We do not reach the question of whether Humphries has standing for her claim for damages under (Georgia law), because the cause of action that statute purports to create has not yet arisen; by the statute’s terms, the cause of action arises only upon the occurrence of conduct prohibited by the statute, and that conduct has not yet occurred,” Peterson wrote.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter and Humphries filed separate complaints alleging that the county’s plan to expedite relocating the monument violated their rights and dignity. Humphries claims the Newton commissioner’s decision violated a law that prohibits the removal and relocation of public monuments without protecting them from interpretation.

The Newton County commissioners voted to remove the monument, but relocation has been postponed while court proceedings are ongoing. Meanwhile, Henry County officials argued that sovereign immunity prevented the county from being sued for damages and that the claim for injunctive relief was irrelevant since the statue of Confederate soldier Charles T. Zachry had been removed overnight in July 2020 from the downtown McDonough square.

As a result of the violence that erupted during a 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia and the murder of George Floyd in 2020, state lawmakers worked to prevent the removal of Confederate memorials as protests demanding removal took off across the country.

Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation in 2019 that increased the penalties for vandalism and prohibited the removal of publicly owned monuments and memorials without placing them in similarly prominent locations.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

NOW WATCH: 'Mike’s Midterm Tsunami Truth': Michael Moore dives into his predictions for 2022 midterms

'Mike’s Midterm Tsunami Truth' Michael Moore dives into his predictions for 2022 midterms