Woman brought gun into polling place because Black volunteers 'scared' her by handing out water

Black volunteers who gave food and water to early voters in the 2020 election broke no laws, the Georgia State Election Board said Tuesday. But the woman who filed the complaints faces potential charges for bringing a gun into a polling place.

The woman accused members affiliated with Black Voters Matter of violating election rules prohibiting campaigning within 150 feet of a polling place, and said she was "scared for my safety" by the group's actions passing out water, playing hip-hop music and talking with voters in a multi-hour line in Albany in October 2020.

State investigators found no violations from the voting rights group, as the sweeping voting law SB 202 that explicitly prevents non-poll workers from distributing food and water inside the 150 foot barrier was not in effect yet. But the election board did vote to refer the woman who filed the complaint, Sarah Webster, to the attorney general's office for violating a state law preventing people from bringing guns within 150 feet of a polling place.

During the board's meeting in Macon, Webster, who is white, offered often combative explanations for her suspicions of Black Voters Matter and why she brought an antique pistol (that she said was not functional) with her to cast a ballot. She compared volunteers with the group, known for hosting bus tours to boost voter participation in Black communities, to armed Black Panther Party members; accused the state election board of covering up election fraud in the 2020 presidential election and said she feared for her life because of the volunteers' presence.

"I remember the Black Panthers that stood in front of the polling place with their guns, that's how I felt when I pulled up to vote in Albany, Ga.," Webster said. "That's what I felt. 71 years old, I don't run as fast as I used to, and I was totally intimidated. I'm still intimidated and shaking."

According to investigators, Webster got into a confrontation with the Black Voters Matter group after casting her ballot and was later charged with disorderly conduct.

Demetrius Young, one of the people passing out refreshments and now an Albany city commissioner, said both in the meeting and at a press conference afterwards that there was never any illegal campaigning and his group was being targeted for being Black and trying to help all voters combat long wait times.

"I spoke to Ms. Webster and explained to her what we were doing," he said. "I was simply trying to help people who were in 90-degree heat, standing in line for six hours trying to cast their vote, many of them passing out on the sidewalk."

He added that Webster was even one of the people who received water, despite her complaint about their presence.

Young also said he was relieved that the two-year time period it took for the complaint to get resolved is finally over.

"You know, the half has not been told on about what we went through through that whole elections period," he said. "We were the ones that were threatened with violence, guns pulled on us, but we were the ones who were threatened with arrest from the local officials there. We were the ones who had to endure charges and and things of that nature."

Bryan Sells, a voting rights attorney representing Young and others working with Black Voters Matter that were accused of breaking campaigning rules, said in a press conference the State Election Board made the correct decision in dismissing the claims but decried the fact that the process even had to happen.

"The recommendation by the investigators was that there was no violation, and that was correct," Sells said. "The point I want to emphasize is that my clients have been under legal jeopardy now for more than two years, and they should never have been in jeopardy, because what they did back in October 2020 was not unlawful."

Protect the Vote GA's Hannah Joy Gebresilassie also denounced the "bullcrap" from Webster and warned of the danger of having a gun inside the polling place.

"We saw a woman today in there that tried to defend herself who could have easily hurt somebody, who could have easily taken someone out, who could have easily done something very atrocious and regrettable with a gun," she said. "We're not talking about that enough."

Sells, Black Voters Matter and other voting rights groups in attendance also took the opportunity to slam the provision in SB 202 that, were it in effect back in 2020, likely could have meant the organization would be in violation of the restrictions on where a third party can provide food and water for voters waiting in line to cast their ballot.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia

Georgia's early voting turnout so far is Blacker and older than recent general elections

After one full week of in-person early voting in Georgia, nearly 838,000 people have already cast their ballots in an election that is expected to shatter midterm records.

According to an analysis of absentee data from the secretary of state's office, turnout is nearly 60% higher than the same point in time in the 2018 general election, thanks in part to record voter interest and the increasing shift in voters utilizing the state's three-week early voting period.

Looking at the demographics of Georgia's voters so far, the electorate is older and Blacker than this time in previous elections, as tightly contested races for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide offices is driving voter enthusiasm.

Georgia does not have party registration, but voter data from the 2022 spring primary shows that around 34% of early voters so far participated in the Republican primary, 32% in the Democratic primary and the rest did not vote in that election. It is unwise to read too much into those numbers: Some Democrats crossed over to vote against candidates backed by former President Donald Trump in that primary, while the Democratic Party's did not have as many high-profile matchups — and, of course, people change their mind about who they support.

Many of Georgia's early voters are reliable voters, with 95% of them participating in 2018, 2020 or the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff. About 37,000 voters did not cast ballots in any of those elections — almost a third of them Black voters. 40% of the 37,000 newly registered in 2022.

Most of the ballots cast so far have been from in-person voting, which is typically how most Georgians cast their ballots other than the 2020 pandemic-era elections. Even so, nearly a quarter of a million Georgians have requested a mail-in absentee ballot under the new rules outlined in last year's massive voting overhaul.

Georgia has some of the most expansive early voting access in the country, spanning three weeks and including two mandatory Saturdays for its 7.8 million registered voters, ending Nov. 4.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Georgia Democrats see an opening in 2022's midterm elections

Democrats in Georgia see their power on the rise after narrowly winning its presidential votes and both U.S. Senate seats in the past two years. But success at the state level has not yet materialized, and the 2022 midterms are proving to be a challenge.

After losing in 2018 by about 55,000 votes, Stacey Abrams leads one of the most diverse slates of candidates in the state’s history and seeks to change the balance of power by beating incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.

Over the weekend, hundreds of Democrats descended upon Columbus for their state convention, as the party faithful rallied alongside politicians to see if this is the year they can turn Georgia blue.

This week, we look at Georgia Democrats’ vision for November and beyond.

In a packed convention hall in Columbus, a sea of blue — and a Gwinnett County woman in a donkey costume — filled the room as the 2022 Democratic Party of Georgia convention got underway with a message from U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop.

"I am thrilled to welcome Democrats from across the state to the Democratic Party of Georgia's state convention 'True Blue 22,' right here in the great city of Columbus, Ga.," he said in a video. "I can't wait to meet and greet Democrats from all across Georgia working to ensure our state stays blue in 2022.”

There is a reason for the party to be hopeful this year, after spending practically all of the 2000s without a state house majority in Georgia’s government and with lesser influence at the federal level.

But over the years, grassroots organizers and candidates gradually convinced Democratic donors and pundits that the state was worth investing in as a new battleground, and a massive influx of voters and money in the past decade put Abrams within 55,000 votes of becoming the country’s first Black female governor in 2018. She's facing a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp.

The traction was gained by grassroots organizers, a diverse coalition of voters across the state, and massive get-out-the-vote efforts and high-profile campaign visits, resulting in a record number of Georgians participating in the presidential race and electing a Democrat for the first time in about three decades — then following it up with flipping both U.S. Senate seats in January 2021 runoffs.

“A lot has happened over the last four years," U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams said. "Y'all, we made history in 2020 and 2021, and with your help, we're going to do it again. We find ourselves in yet another historic election season that will determine the trajectory of not just our state, y'all, but our country.”

So with the last several years of developments, party leaders like Williams sounded cautiously optimistic about what the midterms could bring.

“Today's convention is when we officially kick things into high gear and the final home stretch of the campaign," she said. "It's a time for us to celebrate our accomplishments, celebrate our values, celebrate our vision for Georgia, and celebrate what we all know to be true: Georgia is a blue state.”

But while recent history may be in the party’s favor, midterms are typically a referendum on the party in power nationally, and the present state of the U.S. economy and other issues are putting some Democrats on the defensive.

One of those you might not expect is Bishop, who’s served Southwest Georgia for decades in the U.S. House. He has not faced a serious challenger or come close to losing in many years, but recent redistricting made his seat slightly less favorable. Some election forecasters have predicted it as a tossup, and it is the only one of Georgia’s 14 House seats that could remotely be competitive.

He’s a moderate Democrat with bipartisan appeal.

“It's very awesome, and it also puts me in a very, very interesting but delicate position," he said in an interview. "I have to try to balance the issues and the needs of the state at large against the needs of my particular district. Politics in Georgia has become very polarized, and there are homogeneous types of groups of districts in various parts of Georgia. The Atlanta metro area is much more liberal and has a different perspective in viewing some of the issues than the rural parts of Georgia. My district is half rural and half urban, so I have to be sensitive to both of those constituencies. And so I have to pay much closer attention than many of my colleagues on the Democrat side and on the Republican side.”

The convention in Columbus is in Bishop’s district, and he took the opportunity to hype the crowd up with a list of accomplishments the Democratic-controlled Washington has done since 2021, from CARES Act funding and COVID relief to infrastructure developments to the most recent CHIPS and Science Act. Because of the current nature of national politics, Bishop said the stakes for 2022 are even higher.

“Georgia is a battleground state, we need Georgia wins to keep the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate in Washington," he told the crowd. "We must elect Democrats up and down the ballot and on the state level. We have got to keep Democrats elected and we've got to make sure that Georgia is 'True Blue in 22.' We have got to elect this incredible slate of Democrats in Georgia.”

One of the most-watched races in the country is the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker. The race is tight according to the polls, attracting a ton of fundraising and could once again be a deciding factor in control of Congress.

Warnock took to the stage in Columbus touting his work on health care after being introduced by Sandra Ellison, a senior citizen who needs insulin.

“Like over 1 million other Georgians, I rely on insulin every day," she said. "For too long, too many Georgian that are dependent on insulin have struggled to afford the lifesaving medicine. Even even with Medicare, high prescription drug costs mean making difficult choices between medication and household expenses, such as groceries, gas and paying rent.”

In the so-called Inflation Reduction Act that recently passed, Warnock was able to include a provision that caps the cost of insulin for seniors on Medicare — though a similar bill to expand those caps for the rest of people did not make it.

“Sandra, who is a diabetic, depends on insulin," he said. "Reminds me why I tolerate politics in order to do good work for ordinary people. I mean, who would dare block providing insulin for people who need insulin? Who does that? Who does that? And I'm sorry, but I'm a pastor: Where did they go to church?”

Warnock is largely running his race on more bipartisan accomplishments in his short tenure in office and avoiding some of the baggage that comes with President Joe Biden’s unpopularity.

“I want to say that I will work with anybody if it helps me to get work done for Georgia," he said. "I even worked with Ted Cruz to get something done!"

The other major race this fall is the governor’s race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, a 2018 rematch that we have discussed in depth before on this podcast.

Abrams is the underdog, and the leader of Democrats’ efforts to transform Georgia.

“Standing with me is the most extraordinary ticket Georgia has ever produced," she said, flanked by other statewide nominees. "It looks like Georgia. It sounds like Georgia. It knows Georgia. Together, we represent immigrants and those who have been here for generations. We have folks who moved here from across the south and folks who moved here from across the country. We understand the needs of our people because we live those lives every day.”

She’s made Medicaid expansion a central focus of her campaign, and spoke recently about an economic plan that includes expanding college educational access and funding it by allowing casino gambling.

“We can do this and so much more without raising a dime in taxes," she said in a speech. "We simply have to raise our expectations of our leaders. Georgia stands at a generational moment, and this moment we have a $5 billion surplus money that can be invested in our future or hoarded for those who already have too much. We have an opportunity to deploy our resources to fix the roof and fix the plumbing instead of patching up the holes and bailing out the basement. We have the right as Georgians to not only believe in ourselves, but to have a government that believes in us. The government is a tool, not a weapon."

The rest of the slate comes from diverse backgrounds and have many strengths that tie into key issues locally and nationally, like secretary of state nominee Bee Nguyen and voting rights.

“I'm running to ensure that every eligible Georgian has access to the ballot box – and has access to the ballot box without barriers – to elect the representatives of their choice, to elect leaders that represent the values of Georgians and the diversity of our state," Nguyen said. "When we bring Georgians together from every corner of our state, and we come together based on the shared values of democracy, of economic prosperity for everybody and justice for all, we win.”

Attorney General nominee Jen Jordan is taking on incumbent Chris Carr by highlighting abortion and gun rights.

“We have an attorney general right now who has worked harder to to make sure that women women couldn't make the most personal decisions of their lives," Jordan said of the state's new abortion law. "He's worked harder at trying to get abortions banned in the state than he has to actually take illegal guns out of the hands of criminals. Think about that. It's about taking away rights as opposed to protecting people. We have got to have a change. So not only do we look diverse, listen, we sound diverse and we are from different areas, but I can tell you the one thing that we all have in common is that we are all going to put the people of this state as the priority.”

This is arguably the most competitive slate of Democratic candidates the party has seen for years in Georgia. But not everyone with money and a message may be destined to win.

Take Marcus Flowers, running in Georgia’s 14th District against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in an overwhelmingly Republican district. He is convincing to Democratic voters and donors, but is that enough? Probably not in deep-red conservative northwest Georgia, where Greene won by nearly 50 points in 2020.

“I've seen the damage done by extremism, by radicalization and by misinformation," he said in a speech. "And I cannot simply stand by and let it happen here. This is not about politics for me. It's about right and wrong. It's about preserving our democracy for future generations.”

Flowers’ money has been largely spent on consultants and ads instead of grassroots mobilization to squeeze out every blue vote in a sea of red. But every little bit will count for statewide races like Warnock and Abrams. Even though many of the candidates that spoke at the Democratic state convention aren’t likely to win in November, there’s still the bigger picture and longer term to consider, like the 2024 presidential election.

Georgia Democrats have made their pitch to the Democratic National Committee the state should be one of the early presidential primary states, and Atlanta is one of a few finalist cities to host the DNC Convention.

“We're pushing, y'all, we're pushing, we're pushing," Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said. "We are applying pressure, as they say. We're going to make sure that we get that convention here in Georgia. ... And let's just say I like our odds going into this.”

Those decisions likely won’t be made before the midterms, when Georgians will make key decisions about who will represent them for years to come.

Current polling shows Warnock slightly ahead of Walker, and Abrams within striking distance of Kemp — increasing the possibility that one or both of those races could head to December runoffs.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Latest filing sheds more light on Fulton DA's election interference probe

A new filing from the Fulton County District Attorney's office paints the clearest picture yet of the scope of a special grand jury's investigation into potential election interference in Georgia's 2020 presidential election by former President Donald Trump and his allies.

The Tuesday response to Gov. Brian Kemp's motion to quash his closed-door testimony in the probe outlines potential lines of questioning for the governor and hints that the wide-reaching investigation will likely not finish before the November midterm election.

Last week, Kemp's attorneys filed an eleventh-hour motion to halt his appearance by accusing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis of turning the special purpose grand jury proceedings "into its own mechanism of election interference" and argued Willis' team was delaying to hurt Kemp in the midterms. The motion also said that sovereign immunity and executive privilege exempted the governor from testifying.

Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade wrote Tuesday that Kemp's arguments to quash the subpoena did not apply, and that the governor's lawyers were the ones playing politics.

"The baseless and inflammatory accusations of unethical behavior hurled about by [Kemp attorney] Movant — while unpersuasive and unhelpful to the grand jury’s work — will not deter the SPGJ or the District Attorney’s Office from securing necessary testimony from any and all relevant witnesses," Wade wrote. And to that end, the District Attorney submits that the instant motion to quash is wholly without merit."

The DA's office said Kemp's attorneys omitted emails from several threads filed in their motion, calling them "a rather unsophisticated manipulation of counsel's correspondence to shape the narrative" and said that documents the governor's office turned over to investigators' requests related to the election included unresponsive documents like a dead person's medical records, a soil report and "photographs of dogs apparently related to the purchase of protective canine vests."

As for the claims of sovereign immunity and executive privilege, Wade wrote that sovereign immunity did not apply to Kemp, "who is a mere witness" in the investigation, and that the courts do not recognize Georgia governors as having executive communications privilege.

But the most revealing part of the DA's filing is a section that notes why the governor is a key witness to the ongoing probe into potential criminal election interference, including Trump's previous statements about unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and calls he made to Kemp to convene a special legislative session to reverse the election.

Kemp was one of a small but powerful group of Republican officials that did not promote false claims about the 2020 election and certified the results that saw President Joe Biden narrowly win Georgia's 16 electoral votes.

The special grand jury appears to be interested in the relationship between pressure Kemp faced post-election from Trump and others and the pressure Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger received, including the infamous call between Trump and Raffensperger where the state's top election official was asked to "find" votes to change the outcome of the already-certified election.

"Consequently, before the grand jury, [Kemp] can testify about any factual connections between the telephone calls to Secretary Raffensperger and telephone calls concerning relief being sought from [Kemp]," Wade wrote.

Since the special grand jury operates in secret, it is not publicly known what charges are being considered and who could be charged once the jury wraps up its investigation and writes a report recommending its findings. But recent weeks have seen revelations that the 16 Republicans who served as fake electors and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, have been notified they could face criminal charges for their role in the unsuccessful attempt to reverse Trump's defeat.

Trump himself has not been subpoenaed so far, though he has retained a Georgia-based defense attorney Drew Findling in relation to the inquiry, and the public documents that have been released suggest that Trump's efforts to overturn the election play a central role in the grand jury's work.

A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday to address Kemp's motion to quash his subpoena.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

NOW WATCH: ‘I’m not conceding’: Tearful Laura Loomer blames ‘big tech’ after losing GOP congressional primary

‘I’m not conceding’ Tearful Laura Loomer blames ‘big tech’ after losing GOP congressional primary www.youtube.com

GOP Gov. Brian Kemp blasts subpoena in Fulton election probe as tensions mount

Lawyers for Gov. Brian Kemp are seeking to quash a subpoena to appear before a Fulton County special grand jury investigating election interference as the largely secret proceedings are entering a new phase of bitter public fights over questioning.

The 121-page filing also accuses the Fulton County district attorney's office of being unresponsive to the governor's efforts to meet over the last 18 months and argues DA Fani Willis was making the probe political ahead of the November election.

"Unfortunately, what began as an investigation into election interference has itself devolved into its own mechanism of election interference," the filing from attorney Brian McEvoy reads. "This is particularly egregious when directed toward the State’s highest executive, who is not accused of any wrongdoing and is occupied with the business of governing."

The motion also argues that the governor should not have to answer the subpoena because of sovereign immunity and says some of the things he could be asked about are protected by attorney-client privilege and executive privilege.

Kemp was scheduled to testify Thursday, according to a subpoena filed as part of the motion to quash, after the DA's office canceled a previously-scheduled appointment for the governor to give video testimony. Now, his testimony is on hold until a judge rules on the motion.

Most of the 121 pages are email threads from the governor's attorney and the district attorney's office, detailing the unraveling of a once-cordial relationship into hostile exchanges, including an email from Willis accusing the state's lawyer of being "rude and even disparaging" and delaying his testimony.

"This is NOT a politically motivated investigation," Willis wrote. "You repeatedly referring to it as a politically motivated investigation, does not make it so. In fact, you repeating it so many times only proves you have become very comfortable being dishonest."

But McEvoy, representing the governor, wrote in the filing that the DA's office was the one stalling, sharing emails that show several messages left unanswered and a rotating cast of attorneys from the Fulton County office serving as points of contact, culminating with a "troubling phone call" that rejected proposed dates and nullified previous agreements and conversations about the governor's appearance.

One issue was a pre-interview meeting called a proffer, where Kemp's lawyers sought to discuss concerns about privilege and the scope of his testimony.

Willis said in her July 20 email her office does not do proffers in criminal proceedings like this but instead offered Kemp the "courtesy of having his lawyer present for a taped interview to avoid him having to testify live" before withdrawing that offer and notifying him he would face a subpoena to show up in person.

Kemp's office also provided more than 130,000 pages of documents requested in a subpoena earlier this year that "represents, explains, and provides context" about the 2020 presidential election and its certification process.

With less than 90 days to go before the November election, Kemp's lawyers asked to postpone his testimony until after Election Day, where he is facing a tight reelection battle against rival Stacey Abrams.

"Given the politically motivated nature of the Office's ongoing investigation and the fact that we are now in an election cycle in Georgia, we are also concerned about potential leaks of substantive testimony," McEvoy wrote on July 20.

The investigation intensifies

The heated public spillover of the mostly private proceedings over the last several months represents the difficult tightrope that the Fulton County DA's office is trying to walk investigating politically motivated election interference by Republican supporters of former president Donald Trump while avoiding the appearance of politically motivated prosecution.

Willis and her staff have already been disqualified from investigating state Sen. Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, because the DA held a primary runoff fundraiser for Charlie Bailey, his Democratic opponent.

Jones was one of the leading voices questioning the 2020 election results, and lost his committee chairmanship ahead of the 2021 legislative session because of it. Jones, who received Trump's endorsement in the primary election, signed on to a failed Texas Supreme Court challenge that Georgia's attorney general, also a Republican, called "constitutionally, legally and factually wrong."

Jones also traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, 2021 with a letter intended for then-Vice President Mike Pence, urging him to delay certification of the Electoral College votes based on already-debunked false claims of fraud, and served as one of 16 Republicans that falsely claimed to be the state's rightful presidential electors.

This week also saw numerous other developments in the wide-ranging probe seeking to find who might have broken state laws in the failed attempts to reverse Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina could not avoid testifying in front of the special grand jury about calls he made to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger allegedly seeking to throw out absentee votes, denying his claims of privilege as a high-ranking government official and highlighting the jury's desire to ask him about other topics.

Tuesday, lawyers for 11 of the other fake electors asked a judge to reconsider his ruling denying their request to disqualify Willis from investigating them, writing that because of their prominent positions within the state GOP they are "inextricably" tied to Jones.

And hours before Kemp's explosive filing, Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani spent six hours answering questions in the Fulton County courthouse, flying down from New York after a protracted battle over the timing of his testimony and after Giuliani declined to fight the subpoena. The former mayor of New York City was informed Monday he is a target of the investigation, and is a central figure in the sustained fight by Trump and his allies to subvert Georgia's thrice-counted election results. That fight includes several appearances before Georgia lawmakers where he made fantastical and false claims of fraud and wrongdoing with the state's election system and results.

It is unclear when the grand jury will author its report recommending what, if any, charges should be brought against any of the figures that have testified and been targeted in the probe, but both the judge and the DA have indicated a heightened sensitivity will be taken surrounding the beginning of early voting in October. A redacted filing submitted by Judge Robert McBurney outlines a security plan for the drafting of the report.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia

Herschel Walker's 'bad air' comments the latest in series of policy gaffes

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker's viral comments about polluted "bad air" floating to China is the latest misstep for a campaign seeking to overcome an avalanche of negative stories and his penchant for controversial statements.

Walker is locked in a close battle against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in one of the most important Senate races in this November's midterm cycle.

Speaking at a Hall County GOP event Saturday that the campaign barred media from attending, Walker said that COVID-19 was "created by China" and that it was not a good use of money to tackle air pollution through the Democrats' sweeping "Green New Deal" proposal because China and other countries would not do the same.

"Since we don't control the air, our good air decided to float over to China's bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move," Walker said. "So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got we to clean that back up."

But that's not how air pollution works. Reducing (or adding) pollution in one country affects the entire globe, and the United States' air, clean or otherwise, does not just decide to "float" over to China and vice versa.

China and the United States are some of the world's biggest polluters, though both have made strides in recent years to reverse their emission trends.

The Air Quality Life Index at the University of Chicago says that China is the 10th most polluted country in the world, but the Chinese government's "war against pollution" over the last decade has seen a nearly 40% decline in particulate pollution. Since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970, the United States' particulate pollution has dropped more than 60%.

After a day of mockery online, Walker's campaign staff tried to walk back the first-time candidate's remarks, claiming he "called out China for being the world's No. 1 polluter and for unleashing the deadly coronavirus pandemic," despite recorded remarks showing otherwise.

Walker's dubious claims about air pollution and China were not one-off remarks, but rather a regular feature of his stump speech. According to a review of audio from more than a dozen recent campaign events, Walker regularly discussed "rotation" of air that the U.S. can't "control" and blamed China and India for "bad air."

"No matter how much money we put into controlling our air, it goes over to China or to somewhere else, and it messes up," Walker said in Statesboro in May. "All of a sudden, it comes back over here."

At a Valdosta meet and greet, he decried "bad air" that would "float back over" while telling another crowd in St. Simons that "we don't control this air" and that bad air "flows over to our space and our good air" and told the Fulton County Republican Women in March that "the thing about air, if you don't control the air, the air just blows and all that."

Walker also has repeated a misleading claim that the U.S. has "some of the cleanest" air and water in the world as rationale for opposing Democrats' climate change proposals.

According to the Yale Environmental Performance Index, the United States only ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in overall environmental quality and 16th in air quality.

Beyond Walker's campaign stump speech mentioning air pollution, only a brief overall policy around energy can be found on his website.

"Gas and energy prices are skyrocketing as a result of bad Democratic energy policy decisions," it reads. "If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past year, America cannot depend on other countries for our essential resources, including energy. Herschel will fight to make America energy independent once again, leading to lower gas prices, more American jobs being brought back from overseas, and stronger national security."

Walker's most recent gaffe made the rounds on the same day his campaign announced a retooled senior leadership team and follows an explosive Daily Beast report alleging that Walker lied to his own campaign about the number of children he had, after the outlet reported three previously undisclosed children.

The article also said internal communications showed advisers do not trust Walker to be honest or to handle campaign events and expressed concerns about his mental fitness to run for office.

Walker's campaign has largely been conducted behind closed doors and without much mainstream media access since he entered the race last August. He refused to debate his opponents on the way to a blowout primary win and has so far ignored requests to schedule debates for the general election despite promising to face Warnock.

When Walker has done interviews, they gain traction for often nonsensical statements he's made while answering questions, such as saying there are 52 states, musing that a solution to school shootings include "a department that can look at young men that's looking at women that's looking at social media" and responding to a reporter's question about gun laws that “what I like to do is see it and everything and stuff."

Then there's Walker's biography and personal backstory, which includes numerous falsehoods and fabrications, ranging from overstated business records, false claims about graduating from the University of Georgia and his record in high school, claims he was in law enforcement and more.

Walker is currently one of the top fundraising Republicans in the country and polling shows a virtually deadlocked race roughly four months out from the election.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

'His dad is a Democrat!' Tensions flare during 10th Congressional District GOP runoff debate

The two Republicans in the primary runoff for Georgia's 10th Congressional District are both ultra-conservative Trump-supporting candidates, but only one has Trump's endorsement and only one can ultimately win.

Trucking executive Mike Collins and Democratic former state lawmaker and DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones squared off in the Atlanta Press Club-sponsored debate Monday, and sparks flew from the very beginning.

Much of the debate saw the pair level personal attacks on each others' records and hurl accusations of not being truly conservative enough.

"His dad is a Democrat, he was raised a Democrat; it's in his blood," Jones said of Collins. "If you want to run as a Democrat, then run as a Democrat. Don't try to get Democrat voters to vote in a Republican primary."

Jones was a Democratic state lawmaker and previously served as CEO of one of the most Democratic counties in the state before switching his allegiance to the GOP after the 2020 election. Collins' father, Mac Collins, was elected as a Democratic county commissioner in Butts County several decades ago before switching to the Republican Party and serving as a Republican congressman.

The two also sparred over Jones' vote against Georgia's abortion law in 2019, both men's use of federal paycheck protection loans and more during the heated debate.

When asked about potential compromises over gun legislation after a deadly mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, Jones said "America needs more God, not more gun control."

"You know, if we can send $40 billion to Ukraine, why can't we send money to our public schools to make them safe and protect our children," he asked.

Collins also said that the answer to school shootings was doing more to secure schools.

"I think you need to arm teachers in the classroom," he said. "You could even use prior veteran military personnel and train them much the way they did in Florida and and have them work at these schools and and protect these students."

The Uvalde, Texas, school system where 19 students and two teachers were killed, had enhanced security procedures in place. Law enforcement's failure to respond in a timely manner to the shooting is one of many aspects of the shooting under investigation.

In some ways, Trump would be a winner regardless of the outcome of the primary: both Collins and Jones are candidates molded in his image who want to advance the former president's policies, deride liberals and question so-called "RINOs" — Republicans In Name Only — within the party. But Jones is one of eight non-incumbents whom Trump endorsed in a bid to reshape Georgia's GOP electorate this year, and only two managed to secure victory so far.

In fact, bids to unseat Georgia's governor, secretary of state, attorney general and insurance commissioner failed in a spectacular fashion, with all losing by large margins — including a 50-point blowout win for Gov. Brian Kemp.

But Jones and Jake Evans in the 6th District provide another opportunity for the potential new Republican majority next year to be Trumpier than ever before. Evans faces Rich McCormick in that runoff.

Primary election day is June 21. If you voted in the Republican primary or did not vote at all, you can participate in the Republican runoff elections.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia."

A mental health bill in Georgia shows how conspiracy theories are affecting politics

On its surface, there wasn't supposed to be anything controversial about Georgia's Mental Health Parity Act introduced earlier this year.

In a time where Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much, the issue of mental health reform was top of mind when Georgia lawmakers crafted a bill that had the backing of experts, advocates and both political parties. Both Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and his likely Democratic challenger in the fall, Stacey Abrams, backed the bill.

"Now I'm going to give Republicans credit," Abrams said at a campaign stop in March. "This is a conversation we've been trying to have in Georgia for more than a decade."

After years of ranking near the bottom in access to mental health care, Georgia's House Bill 1013 would require insurance companies to cover mental health the same way they do physical health. Only three lawmakers voted against the original bill in the state House, citing concerns over inclusion of language already used to define existing issues and provide care.

But before the bill could advance further, its opponents connected the legislation to hot-button cultural issues, especially around sexual identity, and nearly derailed it. The fact that Democrats also supported the bill raised suspicion among some Republicans.

Rep. Philip Singleton, a leader of the legislature's far-right state Freedom Caucus, claimed the bill would "massively expand government in the style of ObamaCare," and enable "back door gun-grabbing."

Then he went even further in a speech before the Georgia state House. "Under this language, treatment for things such as gender dysphoria and pedophilia are automatically included and would therefore be required to be covered, the cost of which will be spread out amongst all Georgians," he said.

From there, opposition snowballed. A nonprofit called "Truth in Education" put out a flyer falsely alleging that Georgia was set to use the law to take guns away from citizens and that pedophilia would no longer be illegal, but rather a health diagnosis. Dozens of mostly older citizens flooded committee hearings with signs attacking Abrams and decrying things that the bill didn't even do.

And at a recent Trump rally, Patrick Witt, a fringe candidate for insurance commissioner, elicited boos when he made the false claim the government would take over mental health care, guided by the World Health Organization.

"It is the biggest government takeover of health care since Obamacare, and it's being pushed by your Republican insurance commissioner," he said. "It would mandate that insurance companies cover any mental health treatment as defined by the World Health Organization – which no surprise will include gender reassignment surgery, hormone blockers for kids and potentially even therapy for pedophiles."

The original language of the bill defined "mental health or substance use disorder" as a condition included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — also known as DSM-5, or the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases. Ultimately, lawmakers tweaked language to appease the critics without substantially altering the bill's purpose. But some lawmakers were still concerned the measure was straying from its stated goal. "I just wonder if this weakens the original intent of the parity section of the bill," Democratic state Sen. Michelle Au, an anesthesiologist, said during a hearing.

The episode in Georgia is another sign of how disinformation's grasp on American politics is becoming stronger. Right-wing figures have lately started to use the term "groomers," to apply to opponents of their agenda rolling back LGBTQ rights, such as Florida's new law limiting discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.

"Groomer" is a term that implies child sexual abuse and has a history steeped in homophobia. There is no evidence that LGBTQ people abuse children at any greater rate than the rest of the population.

Increasingly, outspoken Republican members of Congress, like Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene, are also adopting these slurs. "The Democrats are the party of pedophiles," Greene said in a recent interview on a fringe media outlet. "The Democrats are the party of princess predators from Disney."

None of these things are true. But Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in political rhetoric who teaches at Texas A&M University, said that's beside the point, because messaging like this evokes feelings of fear instead of facts.

"There's a lot of research about fear appeals and why they work on the brain," she said. "And here you have a fear appeal, an outrage appeal and a conspiracy theory all wrapped into one."

Name-calling in politics is nothing new — but using such harsh, absolutist language is meant to deliberately whip voters into a frenzy. And in political debates, that leads to more extreme positions and less compromise.

That kind of language is "used to dehumanize people," Mercieca said. "They're no longer people, but they are instead 'pedophiles' or 'groomers.' They're not even human. You, of course, don't try to negotiate or find consensus with an enemy who cheats. That's not the goal, the goal is only to destroy them."

Ultimately the tactics didn't work in Georgia — this time.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Mental Health Parity Act into law on April 4 flanked by Republicans and Democrats, advocates and activists with much fanfare — after the final bill passed with unanimous support.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

More trouble for Trump-endorsed candidate Herschel Walker as ethics experts find 'red flags' in his financial disclosures

Trump-backed Georgia Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s personal financial disclosure is missing key information that could help voters spot potential conflicts of interests if elected, several campaign finance experts say.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and frontrunner in the race to face Sen. Raphael Warnock is the wealthiest candidate in the contest, with a reported net worth between $29 million and $65 million. He reported more than $4 million in income from late 2020 to December 2021, when his disclosure was filed.

For some categories found on the financial disclosure, federal law only requires ranges of amounts instead of specifics, so the exact value of Walker’s investments are not known.

A review of Walker’s financial disclosure shows inconsistencies in reporting sources of income and positions (both compensated and uncompensated) held, as well as a failure to list any sources that paid Walker more than $5,000 in 2020 and 2021.

Three campaign finance and government ethics experts who reviewed Walker’s disclosures said the lack of required information could prevent voters from understanding potential conflicts of interests if he becomes a U.S. senator.

All three also had questions about H. Walker Enterprises LLC, Walker’s flagship company, which has a reported value of between $25 million and $50 million and netted him more than $3 million in shareholder income from 2020 to 2021.

The business is listed on the disclosure form as “business consulting and professional services.” But without a listing of clients that might have paid Walker or the company more than $5,000, the true picture of Walker’s finance is incomplete, said Stephen Spaulding with government watchdog group Common Cause.

“According to this candidate’s financial disclosure form, no person or entity paid more than $5,000 for any services provided by him — at the same time, he disclosed an interest in an LLC valued at more than $25 million and that provides ‘business consulting and professional services,’” Spaulding said. “This may raise questions for voters trying to screen for conflicts of interest who want to know more about who got what from the consulting and professional consulting firm that bears his name and pays him millions in shareholder income.”

A spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment or clarification about his financial disclosure and H. Walker Enterprises. Walker did report a salary of $100,000 and lists a position as “Trustee” of Renaissance Man Food Services LLC, a subsidiary of H. Walker Enterprises.

According to federal Paycheck Protection Program data, Renaissance Man took more than $180,000 in PPP loans in 2020 and 2021 and had eight employees listed.

A website for H. Walker Enterprises lists several “brands,” including Renaissance Man, 34 Promotions, Herschel’s Raw Talent and Patriot Support Programs, for which Walker reported wages of $331,589 to serve as a national spokesman.

Walker also reported $415,000 from paid speeches, with $175,000 coming in the immediate aftermath of declaring his run for Senate.

While most of the sources that paid Walker can be inferred without looking at the final section left blank on the disclosure form, the bulk of Walker’s income from recent years needs further explanation, the campaign finance experts said.

“The lack of sources of compensation over $5,000 definitely raises some red flags,” said Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. “It’s very odd that there would be somebody who has a consulting firm, has a lot of money from that consulting firm but is not reporting any clients that are paying over $5,000.”

Marsco said it is possible for H. Walker Enterprises to be worth tens of millions of dollars and for Walker to earn millions in shareholder income as listed, but there should be more explanation from the campaign about how his business works. She added that candidates filing incomplete or sloppy disclosure forms is a widespread problem.

“It raises questions when we're at the candidate phase of if they're going to be forthcoming with this information when they're actually in charge,” she said. “If they actually get elected, how much information are we going to get when there's policy on the line?”

Marsco said ethics disclosure forms are complicated and confusing, especially for first-time candidates, but the information is still important to see to whom they could potentially be beholden if elected.

Brett Kappel, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign finance attorney, also said the way H. Walker Enterprises was listed on the form is unclear and echoed the other experts’ questions about what, if any, consulting the company actually does.

“It isn’t clear whether or not Mr. Walker himself provided those services,” Kappel said. “If so, he should have disclosed the identity of each client who paid the LLC $5,000 or more for his consulting/professional services in Part 10.”

Kappel also added that Walker did not disclose whether or not he held a formal position with H. Walker Enterprises, listed in Part 8 of the disclosure.

“You would expect that an individual whose name is included in the name of the LLC would have a formal position with the LLC — as a member, the managing member or as the sole member of the LLC,” he said.

Walker’s two listed positions are with Renaissance Man and as a director of Sotherly Hotels, a boutique hotel chain that includes The Georgian Terrace in Atlanta.

Walker is not the only U.S. Senate candidate whose disclosures had errors.

Gary Black, a Republican and Georgia’s Agriculture Commissioner, also failed to list any source that paid him more than $5,000, but his campaign said it was an error they would correct.

“That was an oversight and it’s being fixed,” spokesman Dan McLagan said in a statement. “Gary’s income is from his job as agriculture commissioner and is public information. Aside from his salary, he might sell a cow now and then.”

McLagan also said the latest questions into Walker’s finances was more evidence that he would lose to Warnock in the November election.

“Herschel is a kamikaze pilot who would crash Republicans into a fiery wreck on the ground,” he said. “He doesn’t care — he’d just go back to Texas.”

A first-time candidate, Walker’s personal and professional background has made continued headlines since his entry into the race last fall. A Columbus Ledger-Enquirer report found Walker failed to repay $625,000 in loans he personally guaranteed for a pizza chain called Zoner’s, listed on his disclosure under “Corporate Securities, Non-Public Stock.”

The Associated Press did a deep dive on Walker’s “exaggerated claims of financial success,” and found his business records were inflated.

Walker is the GOP’s financial and polling frontrunner in the primary, which is May 24.

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Trump’s Republican revenge tour falters in Georgia

When the dust settles on the 2022 elections in Georgia, Donald Trump’s loudest critics and fiercest supporters will probably agree on one thing: the state’s politics will be forever changed by his fixation on the 2020 election here.

Speaking on a windy Saturday evening at a former drag racing strip in Commerce, northeast of Atlanta, the former president touted a slate of seven GOP primary challengers and continued a scorched-earth approach against incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and their allies for failing to attempt to overturn his 2020 defeat.

“Brian Kemp is a turncoat, is a coward, and is a complete and total disaster," Trump said. "If Brian Kemp is renominated, he will go down in flames at the ballot box because Stacey [Abrams] will steal it from him and humiliate him, just like she brazenly stole the Georgia election from right under his nose in 2020, which hurt two senators and which hurt the presidential candidate."

Three separate counts of the election, including a full hand count risk-limiting audit, confirmed that President Joe Biden narrowly defeated Trump more than 500 days ago, but Georgia is a state that he has remained obsessed with seeking revenge on those who wronged him.

If Trump succeeds in unseating Kemp and other incumbents, his role as kingmaker and avatar for the GOP's newer "America-first" direction could be further cemented ahead of a likely presidential run in 2024. If Kemp and other Republicans hold off Trump's challenge and retain power in November, then a pathway to a post-Trump Republican agenda could become more clear.

But publicly and privately, Georgia Republicans worry about a third option — one where Trump's incendiary primary challenges fail and Democrats like Abrams still win races in an otherwise favorable national environment for conservatives.

MORE: Battleground: Ballot Box | Stacey Abrams is ready for a rematch (and Medicaid expansion)

"You know what, if Kemp wins, I think Herschel Walker is going to be very seriously and negatively impacted, because Republicans that happen to like Donald Trump — MAGA Republicans — are not going to go and vote for this guy Kemp," Trump said. "And if they don't vote for Kemp, they're not going to be able to vote for a great man right there, Herschel Walker. And we don't want that to happen. So a vote for Brian Kemp, RINO, in the primary is a vote for a Democrat senator who shouldn't be in the Senate."

Normally, Trump's Georgia rallies have been crowded, raucous affairs, but Saturday's event saw a smaller crowd with a steady stream of people leaving throughout his speech. For much of the day, the crowd was virtually silent during speeches railing against Biden, Democrats, Republican enemies of Trump and the "fake news."

Much of Trump’s speech and the rally’s pre-show hit popular themes among the right flank of the Republican party.

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker said “we need to get men out of women’s sports” and decried "CTR" (meaning so-called Critical Race Theory).

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams the “Death Star” and said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband should “stay out of our girls’ bathrooms.”

Rep. Jody Hice, who's running for secretary of state, said the state needs an election official that focuses more on prosecuting more cases of fraud, despite little evidence that massive unchecked fraud exists.

Virtually every speaker attacked Biden and Democrats for how they've run the country.

The vendetta against Kemp and his political allies has Trump wading deeper down the ballot and risking defeats against more entrenched, better-funded popular incumbents.

There’s Patrick Witt, the former candidate for Georgia’s 10th Congressional District whom Trump's now endorsed for Insurance Commissioner against incumbent John King because of his stance on “election integrity” and promises not to make insurance “woke.”

Attorney General Chris Carr will contend with Trump-backed John Gordon, who lamented about a campaign ad removed from YouTube that contained false information about the 2020 election and whose website briefly claimed the 2022 election — not yet conducted — was stolen.

Democrat-turned-Trump supporter Vernon Jones earned Trump’s support in the wide-open 10th Congressional District after dropping out of the governor’s race to clear a path for former Sen. David Perdue. Jones faces a crowded primary in the east Georgia district, including fundraising and polling frontrunner Mike Collins.

Meanwhile, Perdue’s insurgent challenge against Kemp has failed to gain traction in polling or donations.

The former U.S. senator, who lost to Sen. Jon Ossoff in Jan. 2021 runoffs, has escalated personal attacks against Kemp and used stronger language making false claims of election fraud in an effort to appeal to the very Trump voters who skipped those runoffs because of similar claims of fraud.

"Let me be very clear: In the state of Georgia, thanks to Brian Kemp, our elections in 2020 were absolutely stolen," Perdue said falsely. "I'm fighting right now to find out what happened in 2020 and make sure that those people responsible for that fraud in 2020 go to jail."

Georgia Democrats, hoping to capitalize on the Republican infighting and shifting demographics, drove a mobile billboard outside the rally blasting current state leaders on their health care policies.

“The positions of David Perdue and Herschel Walker – along with every other Republican running in Georgia – are clear: they would attack the Affordable Care Act, gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions, oppose Medicaid expansion, and support plans that would drive up health care costs for Americans,” Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia said. “While Democrats are fighting to improve Georgians’ health care, the Republican agenda puts Trump first and Georgians last, and will keep people from accessing essential health care in communities all across the state.”

While attacking Republican enemies of Trump was a major theme of the evening, several candidates acknowledged that the only way to oust those politicians and regain power would involve showing up to vote.

State Sen. Burt Jones, the Trump candidate for lieutenant governor, told the crowd of around 5,000 that the 2022 election cycle has an outsized importance on the GOP’s path in 2024.

“It will set the stage for ’24, because all eyes will be on Georgia this year,” he said. “And if we don’t win big — if we don’t have a red wave — then it doesn’t play well for us to put Donald Trump back in the White House in 2024.”

Towards the end of the night, after a sizable number of people had left, Trump reminded the crowd and the candidates of why he came to town.

"Mister future governor — I hope, David, you’re going to be the governor, or I just wasted a hell of a lot of time here tonight," he said.

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Legal battle erupts in Georgia as lawsuits claim new redistricting maps ignore Black population growth

It did not take long after the proverbial ink to dry before lawsuits were filed against Georgia's new political redistricting maps covering the state House, state Senate and U.S. House district boundaries.

Gov. Brian Kemp quietly signed the new maps into law Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, after a special legislative session that ended in November, codifying Republican dominance in a state that has seen a rapid political and demographic shift toward Democrats.

Despite flipping both U.S. Senate seats in January and electing President Joe Biden last November, Georgia's congressional delegation will actually gain a GOP-favored seat under the new law. And while the state legislative maps cede more seats to Democrats in metro Atlanta, Republicans will still have a comfortable majority in both chambers.

MORE: How Georgia's redistricting process sets the playing field for 2022 and beyond

While statewide elections have essentially been a competitive 50-50 split in the last four years, the new districts approved for state and federal lawmakers are not as competitive, possibly leading to more races being decided in lower-turnout primaries and the potential for more extreme candidates to take office.

Georgia's current U.S. House delegation has eight Republicans and six Democrats, but a dramatic overhaul to the 6th and 7th districts in Atlanta's northern suburbs will likely result in nine Republicans after the 2022 midterm elections.

The new congressional map takes the 6th District, represented by Democrat Lucy McBath, and turns it into a conservative stronghold by moving the seat northward to include Cherokee, Forsyth and Dawson County voters. In turn, the 7th District represented by Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux shrunk its footprint to just part of Gwinnett County and Johns Creek, creating a safely Democratic district.

A lawsuit filed by five Georgia voters from Cobb and Douglas counties says the area's Black population growth over the last decade is significant enough to have a congressional district based there. The two counties are currently split between five different districts.

"Rather than draw this additional congressional district to allow Georgians of color the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates, the General Assembly instead chose to 'pack' some Black voters in the Atlanta metropolitan area and 'crack' other Black voters among rural-reaching, predominantly white districts," the filing reads.

Data shows, on average, a Republican congressman from Georgia would win with 61% of the vote in their district while a Democratic representative would need to capture 72% of the vote, meaning districts with Democratic U.S. House members have Democrats more heavily packed into them than Republicans are in Republican districts.

The latest Census data shows Georgia's Black population has grown nearly 16% in the last decade and makes up a third of Georgia's 10.7 million people, while the share of white residents has declined and the state is on track to be majority nonwhite in the near future.

The state Senate map moves two rural Republican districts into Democrat-heavy metro Atlanta areas while shifting the boundaries of Democratic Sen. Michelle Au's Johns Creek-based district to become conservative-leaning and majority white. An analysis from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project finds only one of the 56 new districts is competitive.

In the state House, Republican mapmakers utilized several retirements in more rural communities to jettison several seats of their majority and create Democratic-leaning seats in Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties as well as a new seat in conservative-leaning Forsyth County.

The ACLU of Georgia filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the Sixth District African Methodist Episcopal Church and several Georgia voters arguing those maps violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the strength of Black Georgians.

"The southern Atlanta metro region has seen explosive growth in the Black population over the last decade, and yet the new districts fail to allow those new Black voters to elect candidates of their choice," Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in an interview. "For example, Senate districts 16 and 17 in the south Atlanta metro region only have about 25-35% Black voters, when several of the counties in those districts' Black population have grown by well over 30-40%. So politicians cannot just try to freeze Black political power as if it were still 2010."

Georgia as a whole has grown by more than 1 million people in the last decade, almost exclusively by adding nonwhite residents in the metro Atlanta area, and political power has shifted away from rural, white Republicans. The legal challenges say that reality is not reflective of the political maps that, barring the success of any lawsuits, will govern the state for the next decade.

A third suit filed by the Georgia NAACP, Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda and GALEO is the most extensive, naming dozens of districts across the three maps that they say violate the Voting Rights Act as well as the U.S. Constitution.

"Had the chosen map drawers and the Georgia General Assembly drawn districts that accurately reflect Georgia's increasingly diverse population without the improper consideration of race, opportunities for people of color to elect candidates of their choice would have necessarily increased," the filing reads.

All of the lawsuits ask the federal courts to compel the legislature to draw new maps that better reflect Georgia's demographics. The NAACP challenge wants a panel of three federal judges to take further steps and require Georgia to preclear its voting changes with the federal government, a status that the state and other jurisdictions with a history of racist voting changes had under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 until the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision.

While these cases can take time to untangle, preparations are already underway at the local level for elections officials to sort voters into their new districts in time for the May primary elections — though the association of local elections officials has asked lawmakers to delay the primary a month to provide more time to complete the redistricting process.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

This GOP candidate just filed an election lawsuit filled with already-disproven claims of fraud

Georgia Republican David Perdue, whose run for governor launched this week featuring lies about the 2020 election, has filed a lawsuit that recycles claims of fraud already disproven by investigators and rejected by the courts.

In a Friday filing, the former U.S. senator and a Georgia voter claim that thousands of "unlawfully marked" absentee ballots were counted in Fulton County's presidential election, despite three separate counts of the results and no evidence of so-called "counterfeit" ballots included in the vote totals.

The lawsuit repeats claims of "pristine" ballots observed by a Republican monitor that investigators could not corroborate, includes debunked claims about ballots counted at State Farm Arena on election night and demands an inspection of absentee by mail ballots, after a Henry County judge dismissed a similar suit in October.

"You can't look forward without learning from the past; that's what I've been saying since November," Perdue said on Fetch Your News on Friday morning, discussing the suit before it was filed. "Look, I'm not trying to relitigate the 2020 election, but what I am trying to do is find the people who broke the law and bring them to justice. That's why I went to court in November. That's why I'm going to court now."

Perdue, who lost a January runoff to Sen. Jon Ossoff, was party to unsuccessful lawsuits that tried to change absentee signature matching rules for the runoff and segregate votes cast by newly registered voters since the general election.

The legal challenge also wants the court to fire any employees that committed or knew about alleged fraud — something a judge would be unlikely to do — and to command Fulton to "certify the correct vote total to the Secretary of State," which is impossible to do since the election is already certified.

Other claims made in the suit rehash arguments that have been made and fact-checked for months, including most recently in a lawsuit filed by election conspiracist Garland Favorito that was dismissed in October.

State investigators found no evidence to support GOP poll monitor and 6th Congressional District candidate Suzi Voyles' claim that batches of pristine ballots were included in the totals for Fulton County's election results.

Similarly, claims that batches of absentee ballots were scanned multiple times were investigated and found not to be true. The number of absentee by mail ballots counted in the election generally matches the number of voters who were given credit for voting by mail and the number of people in the absentee voter file listed as returning an absentee ballot.

Video of counting at State Farm Arena does show election workers passing stacks of ballots through scanners multiple times, but elections officials have explained that batches must be re-entered if there is a problem with how one is scanned.

In a Jan. 4 press conference, Gabriel Sterling with the Secretary of State's office explained what was seen on video was normal ballot processing.

"If there was a problem with a ballot, what it does is it stops, but before that, four or five will get through," he said. "So they delete that last batch and rescan it so they scan properly. That is the normal process that is done."

Elizabeth Grace Lennon, the second plaintiff in the suit, said that when she voted in person, a poll worker told her she requested an absentee ballot and had to sign an affidavit canceling the request and vote on a provisional ballot. But Lennon told a Georgia Senate committee that she was given a voter access card and she voted on a ballot-marking device.

Lennon claims someone voted the absentee ballot fraudulently in her name, but election records show that is not the case.

Georgia's absentee voter file indicates someone entered a request for an absentee by mail ballot attached to Lennon's name on October 7, but shows it was canceled. Georgia's voter history file shows Lennon was given credit for voting in the November 2020 election, and for voting absentee. But "absentee" in Georgia includes both early in person and absentee by mail, so the credit on her voter history report would reflect her voting in person and the election system working as intended.

This lawsuit, more than 13 months after the presidential election, is the latest in a concerted effort by former President Donald Trump and his supporters to overturn his narrow defeat in Georgia and undermine faith in the election system.

Perdue's campaign to primary Gov. Brian Kemp comes with Trump's endorsement and encouragement after Kemp certified the election results that saw President Joe Biden win the state. Kemp spokesman Cody Hall blasted Perdue for the timing and message of the lawsuit.

“David Perdue is so concerned about election fraud that he waited a year to file a lawsuit that conveniently coincided with his disastrous campaign launch," Hall said. "Keep in mind that lawsuit after lawsuit regarding the 2020 election was dismissed in part because Perdue declined to be listed as a plaintiff. Instead of hiding for months from the fight to secure the ballot box - which Governor Kemp led - maybe next time Perdue should cancel his tee time.”

Despite claims Perdue and others have made about the potential for fraud with absentee ballots, records show Perdue voted by mail in the November 2020 election and has consistently voted absentee by mail in previous elections.

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Democrats make gains in municipal elections across Georgia

Local elections are typically nonpartisan and lower turnout, but that doesn't make them immune to Georgia's battleground status.

In the November general elections and runoffs, Democrats picked up 48 seats in mayoral and city council elections across the state while Republicans flipped six.

In McDonough and Warner Robins, voters elected the first Black mayors in those cities' history — and the first women, as well.

McDonough City Council member Sandra Vincent told GPB News she is hoping to retain the city's "small-town feel" while ensuring rapid growth in the surrounding area doesn't leave residents behind. LaRhonda Patrick defeated incumbent Warner Robins mayor Randy Toms in a runoff election as well.

Former Cairo mayor Booker Gainor defeated incumbent Howard Thrower III, Ann Tarpley is the new mayor of Hampton and Cosby Johnson is the new mayor of Brunswick.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement that the results leave the party well-positioned to continue making gains in 2022.

“From Middle Georgia to the coast and everywhere in between, Georgians came out in full force this election cycle to make their voices heard and demand change," she said. "Democrats’ strong showing in this year’s municipal elections is a testament to the unprecedented grassroots enthusiasm our party has been building across the state for years — and our momentum is only growing."

Beyond seats changing hands, runoff elections in metro Atlanta also signaled an end to many longtime incumbents' terms and a new direction for Atlanta's government.

South Fulton Councilman khalid kamau ousted incumbent mayor Bill Edwards in the city's mayoral race, while newcomers Jason Dozier and Antonio Lewis defeated Cleta Winslow and Joyce Shepherd, respectively, for Atlanta City Council seats.

With City Council member Andre Dickens handily winning Atlanta's mayoral runoff, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore continued the streak of council presidents failing to move up into the city's highest office.

Pro-Trump candidate's Senate run is heavy on Fox News spots and closed-door campaign stops

Herschel Walker has been no stranger to the limelight over the years, but his bid to become a U.S. senator so far has been a quieter, closed-door affair.

Herschel Walker has been no stranger to the limelight over the years, but his bid to become a U.S. senator so far has been a quieter, closed-door affair.

The former Heisman Trophy winner, U.S. Olympian and successful business owner has the endorsement of former president Donald Trump in the GOP race to challenge Sen. Raphael Warnock, but the opening weeks of his campaign have been largely conducted in private.

Apart from a prominent speech at a Trump rally in Perry, the former University of Georgia football star has largely juked typical campaign events, fundraisers and media interviews in favor of friendlier conversations on conservative media outlets such as Fox News.

A GPB News analysis finds Walker has done more than two dozen interviews in the eight weeks since launching his campaign, almost exclusively with Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity.

"The crop of 2022 Republican candidates just got a lot stronger tonight, as football legend Herschel Walker announced that he is jumping into the Georgia GOP Senate primary to take on incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock," Hannity said Aug. 25, the day Walker's campaign officially launched. "We need leaders like you. You are a leader, a natural-born leader."

The next morning, Walker joined Fox and Friends and said the key to Republicans winning in future elections is to "get out and see the people."

"I think you've got to get out and you've got to see the people and let the people know who you are, let the people know what you can do for this state," he said.

A few days later, Walker's campaign skipped one of the largest Republican events of the year, the 8th District GOP fish fry in Perry.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, one of three other Republicans vying for the party's nomination, said showing up to events like the fish fry was important connect with the voters a senator is supposed to serve.

"Those folks are the personnel committee for the state of Georgia," he said. "The United States Senate seat is a job, it's not celebrity. There are people that need to be served because it's a job under our Constitution. The personnel committee will hire who they want to do that job."

Kelvin King, another candidate, recently visited all 159 counties in 30 days on a grassroots listening tour to introduce himself to voters and learn about their concerns. Latham Saddler has also crisscrossed Georgia, spoken with local conservative radio shows and held events covered by the press.

The race to challenge Warnock is seen as one of the biggest pickups for Republicans seeking to retake control of both chambers of Congress in the 2022 election, and comes as the party is in an identity crisis about how much of Trump's legacy and focus the GOP should embrace moving forward.

For some conservatives, Trump's endorsement of Walker is secondary to questions about what Walker actually believes and would do if elected.

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who endorsed Black, said on his radio show late August that Walker's campaign was "heavy on coming from Wrightsville, Georgia, and very low on policies and beliefs."

On the opening day of the University of Georgia football season, Walker chatted with Fox Sports personality Clay Travis — who has complained about ESPN mixing sports and politics — with most of the conversation about football.

One anonymous party insider supporting Walker's campaign vented days later to the Washington Examiner that the former University of Georgia standout "appears to have gone back to the comfort of his war room” instead of blanketing the state with campaign appearances.

Democrats and Republicans alike have questioned Walker's campaign strategy, arguing he is hiding from voters, the media and potentially hard questions about policy positions. Conservative radio hosts across Georgia and beyond have commented on Walker's lack of presence.

"For me, the million-dollar question is, is 'Herschel Walker a conservative? Yes or no?' And then I like to see the record," conservative commentator Todd Starnes said on his radio show in early October. "That’s all. And I think that is a fair thing to ask."

Walker's campaign website has five sentences of biography, an email sign-up list and a donate button — and no issues page. His interviews with national right-leaning media outlets have rarely dealt with policy questions pertinent to working in the Senate. The campaign has often deflected on questions of the day on topics ranging from vaccines to Mitch McConnell to abortion, and according to Facebook's Ad Library, the Walker campaign has spent nearly $280,000 on ads that feature Trump and fundraising pleas with no mention specific issues or stances.
So at best, what kind of U.S. senator Herschel Walker would be is gleaned from soundbites that are publicly available, like his speech at the Trump rally in Perry, where he stayed positive and avoided the sorts of false claims of election fraud that the former president and other Republican speakers made throughout the night.

"I'm conservative because I like law and order; I'm a conservative because I like school choice; I'm a conservative because I like border control; I'm a conservative because I like a fair election," he said before saying the country is not racist. "The Constitution is not just a piece of paper that we can wad up and throw away. The Constitution is a solid rock that we live by. Those are the foundations that this country was built on."
Before the rally, Walker gave an interview to far-right outlet One America News, the day after the rally joined Fox and Friends to discuss Trump's endorsement and days later told Bill O'Reilly that border control was the top issue the government needs to address.

On Oct. 6, Walker did a local interview, joining North Georgia conservative radio station Voice of Rural America to discuss the importance of his faith and said that while Trump's endorsement is great, he would focus on running the campaign his way.

"Trump is not running, Herschel Walker is running, and I've already been out there on the campaign trail in different cities doing different things," he said. "One of the things I said at the very beginning: The media is not going to run my campaign. And I'm not here for the media, I'm here for the people of Georgia."

Getting out to Georgians is a recurring theme in his interviews, including two interviews during which Hannity asked Walker about a promise to go into "every town, every city and every church, any place you're invited."

"I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican; I am here to represent you," he said. "Everything that the Democrats want, I guarantee is what I want."
Walker has also joined conservative Georgia-based radio shows in recent weeks, like The Morning Xtra and Word on the Street, and the campaign said he did interviews with local radio hosts in Augusta and Savannah.

"We've got to get out and vote," Walker said on The Morning Xtra show. "You know, if you don't vote, how in the world can you talk about something is wrong? We're looking in the rearview mirror talking about the past. We've got to let the past go and move forward. We can't stay back in the past. That's the worst thing that we have to try to do."

Beyond the highly managed campaign rollout, Walker's past has dogged his candidacy from the start, from his self-reported struggles with mental health to his long residency in Texas to questions about the veracity of his business exploits.

Even the best-laid plans to stay under the radar can go awry, like last week when the campaign had to cancel a fundraiser in Texas following a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the sponsor had a swastika made of vaccine needles as a profile picture on social media. A campaign spokeswoman initially defended the image as “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic” before backtracking and saying "the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign" — one of the few instances the campaign has shed light on Walker's values.

Walker has apparently held a listening tour of stops across the state, such as a recent festival in Hiawassee with singer Lee Greenwood, visits to Savannah and Marietta. But these visits with businesses and small groups of voters have happened without advance notice, so the only record of his campaigning are curated photos and videos on social media.
New campaign finance reports show Walker raked in nearly $3.8 million in his first five weeks, with the majority of itemized cash coming from out of state, so the closed-door fundraisers, private events and national media interviews appear to be working.
As Walker is the most visible candidate in Trump’s slate of GOP challengers seeking to remake Georgia politics, it's unclear how long a campaign for public office conducted largely in private will continue. But with more than six months until the Senate primary, the playbook seems to be settled for now.

This story was updated Oct. 21, 2021 at 7:00 a.m. to include more interviews Herschel Walker conducted with local conservative radio shows and an article in the Marietta Daily Journal.

Judge dismisses Georgia ballot inspection case after investigation finds no evidence of fraud

A Henry County judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to inspect Fulton County's absentee votes for counterfeits after state officials reported an investigation found no evidence to support the claims.

Judge Brian Amero wrote in an order Wednesday that the plaintiffs, including Garland Favorito of the group VoterGA, lacked standing and also failed to allege a particularized injury in their lawsuit that claimed fake ballots were counted in Fulton's totals.

The dismissal is the latest in almost a year of unsuccessful lawsuits that have failed to overturn or alter election results in Georgia after President Joe Biden narrowly defeated former President Donald Trump by about 12,000 votes. Multiple investigations by state and local officials have also found little evidence to support conspiracies and claims about how the votes were counted, though isolated instances of misconduct have been reported and referred to appropriate authorities.

Amero granted the motion to dismiss filed by Fulton's three Democratic election board members and also dismissed the two Republican members, who did not object to an inspection of the thrice-counted ballots.

The swift decision by Amero comes hours after the Secretary of State's office filed a brief detailing investigations into the core claims of the suit.

RELATED: Election investigators haven't found evidence of counterfeit ballots in Georgia

"Based upon interviews with the foregoing witnesses, as well as other witnesses who were interviewed during the course of the investigation, and in the inspection of approximately 1,000 absentee ballots and ballot images, the Secretary's investigators have been unable to substantiate the allegations that fraudulent or counterfeit ballots were counted," the filing read.

Investigators looked into claims made by Suzi Voyles, who worked the county's risk-limiting audit and claimed to see a batch of "pristine" ballots that looked suspicious. Voyles is now running for Congress as a Republican in the 6th Congressional District.

After interviewing Voyles two separate times, investigators checked several batches of absentee ballots that she claimed were marked by computer instead of by hand. But they found no irregularities or any ballots that appeared to be counterfeits.

The court filing Tuesday also found no evidence to corroborate claims that workers at State Farm Arena counted fraudulent ballots that were hidden under a table or that they scanned the ballots multiple times, a popular conspiracy theory debunked months ago by state and local officials.

In May, Amero granted a motion to unseal Fulton's absentee ballots, leading supporters of the lawsuit to claim the potential inspection was an "audit" of the votes, part of a nationwide call over the last 11 months to perform so-called "audits" of certified vote totals that show former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden.