GOP activist's voter challenges raise questions in Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) - When a Conservative organization announced plans to launch an electoral integrity operation in Georgia earlier this month, the group's press release included a high profile name: the leader of the Republican Party of State. Less than a week later, the same group announced plans to challenge the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters.
For State Democrats and proxy voting, it was an endorsement of what they have long argued - that the Georgia GOP supports efforts to suppress voting on one of the country's newest political battlefields. Questions have also been raised about the legality of coordination between the State party and the True the Vote group, which accuses the organization's founding disputes.
True the Vote is a relatively obscure conservative group and is one of the numerous political organizations coming to Georgia ahead of two Senate runoffs on January 5th. The outcome of the competitions will determine which party controls the Senate as president. The elected Joe Biden starts his administration.
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On December 14th, True the Vote announced that it would launch an “electoral integrity” campaign in Georgia as a “partner of the Georgia GOP to ensure transparent and secure voting efforts for the Senate runoff elections.” Republican Chairman David Shafer: “The resources from True the Vote will help us organize and implement the most comprehensive election security initiative in Georgian history. "
The December 14 press release described True the Vote's efforts as "publicly available signature verification training, a nationwide voter hotline, monitoring of postal polling boxes and other electoral integrity initiatives." Days later, the group said it was challenging the eligibility of more than 360,000 voters in all 159 counties in Georgia. The state GOP was not mentioned in this disclosure.
The Campaign Funding Act prohibits political parties from accepting contributions - including non-cash payments in kind of goods and services - from companies. Nonprofits with the tax status granted to True the Vote also have strict restrictions on the types of activities they perform, essentially allowing generic voter registration and turnout.
Adav Noti, an expert on suffrage and campaign finance law at the impartial Campaign Legal Center in Washington, said the law meant true the vote. “Absolutely unable to work with a political party on voter registration or voting or the like on these areas in a campaign. "
Right, the founder of Vote, Christine Engelbrecht, a former tea party leader in Texas, denies this and says that there is no "coordination" with Shafer or any of his employees. She said that training materials her group provides for election workers, for example, are publicly available and the state GOP is not involved in any training with True the Vote. However, she acknowledged that some election workers who receive True the Vote materials could volunteer to be election workers for the GOP.
Georgia Republican Party officials, including Shafer, did not respond to several inquiries from The Associated Press regarding the party's relationship with Engelbrecht.
Founded in 2009, True the Vote has a reputation for training conservative election observers to aggressively flag potential election fraud. Election fraud is rare in the United States, and there is no evidence of significant problems in this year's presidential election. This has been confirmed in Georgia by Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, and nationwide by officials such as Attorney General William Barr.
However, much of Engelbrecht's work in the weeks leading up to the Georgia runoff has been focused on identifying registered voters who, according to their group, are ineligible. She said her group's citizen-led challenges to tens of thousands of Georgia voters are based on residence records.
Lauren Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight Action, a political organization founded by Georgian Democrat Stacey Abrams after losing the 2018 governor's race, called it “a hail Mary attempt by Republicans to vote two weeks after an election that people are already voting on. "
Early voting in Georgia began on December 14th, the same day True the Vote formed an alliance with the state's Republican Party. Both parties expect close races between Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their respective Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, reflecting Georgia's new status as a battlefield state. Biden was the first Democrat to promote Georgia in a presidential race since 1992, ousting President Donald Trump by just 12,000 votes from about 5 million votes cast.
Election officials across the country routinely perform electoral roll maintenance between election periods, removing voters who have moved, died, or been inactive for specified periods of time. But federal law prevents these practices from being so close to an election. That's right, but the vote uses state law that allows individual voters to question another voter's eligibility to vote. A state court in Fulton County, which owns most of the city of Atlanta, ruled earlier this year that state restrictions on changing electoral rolls within 90 days of an election override state law. However, this decision does not necessarily apply nationwide.
In at least one densely populated Georgia county - the Cobb in a suburb of Atlanta - the local electoral authority has already turned down True the Vote's challenges. However, in Muscogee County, home of Georgia's second largest city, Columbus, the agency found a "likely cause" for the complaints. That means the Muscogee voters affected - Groh-Wargo said they were several thousand - may have to cast preliminary ballots and then prove that they are entitled to have those ballots counted.
Engelbrecht said her group has filed lawsuits in up to 85 counties.
She insisted that the challenges facing voters be separate from true the vote operations, which could overlap with the GOP's election security program. She said neither Shafer nor any of his subordinates played a role in the corruption of the Georgian voters who filed the challenges with local election officials.
She added that no money has changed hands between the party and True the Vote.
Noti, the electoral law expert, said the federal law made it clear that "a contract or agreement or currency exchange is not required to establish coordination".
It is not the first time that Engelbrecht's activities have been carefully examined. She battled the IRS for years to gain her group's tax-exempt classification. And more recently, True the Vote declared itself in line with Trump's re-election campaign and multi-state legal effort to overturn the general election results. This brought in significant financial support, including top Trump donor Fred Eshelman, according to Bloomberg News.
After True the Vote closed several of its lawsuits in battlefield states, including Georgia, Eshelman filed a lawsuit against Engelbrecht's organization for a $ 2.5 million contribution.
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Election Center 2020
David Shafer

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