Raphael Warnock

December 14, 2022

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. GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX SUBSCRIBE 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: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

December 6, 2022

Over the weekend, Donald Trump effectively demanded the end of America's constitutional democracy. On his Twitter-substitute Truth Social, Trump called for "the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution," escalating his long-standing demands that the 2020 election be overturned in his favor. His call to terminate the constitution earned relatively little mainstream coverage. Trump's anti-democratic views are no longer surprising, plus there's no apparent mechanism for him to get his way on this, both of which likely contributed to the unwillingness to front-page his comments. But it also likely reflects an ongoing, shaky assumption in the Beltway press: That protecting democracy is too abstract of an issue for Americans to be invested.During the weeks leading up to the 2022 midterms, mainstream election coverage appeared to be guided by the presumption that President Joe Biden's pleas to save democracy were largely being ignored by American voters, that high inflation and gas prices would instead drive them to punish the incumbent party at the polls and hand Republicans dramatic victories. This wasn't just conjecture, either. New York Times polling showed that, while voters did say democracy was under threat, they did not rate saving democracy as a voting priority. The much-predicted "red wave" did not happen. Straightaway, there were early indicators that Americans would end up putting a higher value on democracy than they had told pollsters they would. Republican candidates who made a big show of supporting Trump's Big Lie, hinting they were open to interfering with the 2024 election, lost their elections at a much higher rate than almost anyone predicted. Aligning a Republican campaign with Trump meant performing an average of five points below non-Trumpy GOP candidates. Most importantly, Democrats won crucial races for governor and senator in states like Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania, shutting down Trump's likeliest path to interfering with the 2024 election. There are strong signs the trend will continue in Georgia's runoff Senate election between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Trump-backed Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Georgia voters have been in long lines to vote, setting daily record turnouts, exceeding not only previous runoff elections but also any early voting day in the state's history. More than a quarter of Georgia voters have already shown up at the polls.Part of that is due to Georgia Republicans passing a law to truncate the early voting calendar, which prominent Democrats like Stacy Abrams have criticized as voter suppression. People have fewer days to vote early now, concentrating early voters into longer lines and higher per-day averages. Still, these numbers also suggest that the same democracy-protecting urge that shaped the midterm elections is likely in play. It's hard to argue that the runoff between Walker and Warnock will have much impact on those much-ballyhooed "kitchen table" issues. Democrats already have a 50-vote majority in the Senate. A Warnock win would help protect that, but it isn't likely to make a huge difference in the daily operations of the Senate. Democrats are still short one vote to overturn the filibuster. Plus, Republicans now control the House, which presents a significant roadblock for passing meaningful legislation with or without Warnock.That said, voting in this election also has great symbolic value to many people, with Georgia's recently-passed sweeping voter restriction law compared by critics to Jim Crow-era voter suppression. "Voter suppression is one of the surest cures for apathy," Charles Blow, a New York Times opinion writer who recently relocated to Georgia, wrote last week. "Nothing makes you value a thing like someone trying to steal it from you." He describes the long lines to vote as "a poll tax paid in time," but notes that "voters are simply responding with defiance to the efforts to suppress."This enthusiasm to show up for democracy may not have been evident in pre-election polls, but it's showing up in post-election data. On Monday, the progressive strategy group Way to Win released an exit polling report that shows, contrary to pre-election assumptions, protecting democracy was ranked a number two priority by voters, only behind the economy. "Pundit predictions about what would move voters were wrong – the loss of abortion rights and other freedoms, including attacks on our democracy, drove a winning pro-freedom, anti-MAGA majority in the midterms," Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, the vice president of Way to Win, told Salon. "These issues helped us buck historic trends and avoid a red wave – and the same issues are particularly salient in Georgia."Last week, research from Impact Research, a Democratic polling firm, showed similar trends. "Six in 10 voters cited protecting democracy as an extremely important reason that they decided to vote in November. This put the issue ahead of inflation (53%), abortion (47%) and crime (45%)," HuffPost reports. Not only did the issue motivate turnout, but it helped independent voters decide to back the Democrats. To be clear, the high early turnout in Georgia doesn't mean that Warnock is guaranteed to win. As Blow notes, "all of the obstacles placed in voters' way" do cause a lot of voters to give up, even if it stiffens the spines of others. In addition, as a New York Times analysis from the weekend reminds us, "Georgia is still fundamentally a right-leaning state." Yes, it's hard to imagine Republican voters will be moved to stand in line to back someone as demonstrably unfit as Walker. Even Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, confessed that, after waiting in line for an hour to vote, "I walked out of that ballot box showing up to vote but not voting for either one of them." But after a disappointing overall midterm election for Republicans, it is possible that many will show up to vote for Walker in hopes of carving out a victory.Still, the high voter turnout plus this post-midterm polling shows that, despite warnings to the contrary, voters do put a premium on protecting democracy. As Brian Beutler of Crooked Media argued in a pre-midterm newsletter, Americans downplayed their concerns about democracy to pollsters and focus groups because of a "common human distaste for conflict." Most people "wish politics could be a kinder sport" and tend to react negatively to both the increasingly authoritarian rhetoric coming from Republican politicians and the dire warnings about fascism coming from Democrats. If Warnock wins in Georgia, it will be continuing evidence that, as uncomfortable as Americans may be with talking about these issues, they are still motivated to save the American experiment.

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