(TNS) — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Tuesday that about 1,000 Georgians face investigation for voting twice in the state’s June 9 primary, a large-scale allegation of fraud eight weeks before Election Day.
These voters returned absentee ballots and then also showed up at polling places on election day, Raffensperger said. Double-voting is a felony in Georgia.
“A double-voter knows exactly what they’re doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law,” Raffensperger said during a press conference at the state Capitol. “Those that make the choice to game the system are breaking the law. And as secretary of state, I will not tolerate it.”
The investigation follows a chaotic primary where record numbers of voters cast absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. Some voters who weren’t sure whether their absentee ballots would be received before election day decided to vote in person to ensure their votes would count. Voters are allowed to cancel their absentee ballots and then vote at polling places as long as their ballots haven’t yet been received by election officials. It’s unclear whether the voters under investigation attempted to do so.
“They only did what they thought was right to make sure their vote was counted," said Aklima Khondoker, the Georgia director for All Voting Is Local, an organization that’s advocating for more absentee ballot drop boxes and recruiting poll workers. “Voters are not criminal."
Raffensperger said suspected double-voters are responsible because they knew they had returned an absentee ballot but then proceeded to vote at a precinct. Each voter should only cast one ballot, he said.
The process of checking and canceling absentee ballots for voters who came to polling places on election day sometimes broke down.
Voting records weren’t always updated, or poll workers weren’t able to get through clogged phone lines to confirm that an absentee ballot had been returned.
“During the primary election, we could not reach anyone for hours on election day. We had no choice but to have the voter sign an affidavit and let them vote,” said Todd Faircloth, a Fulton County poll worker.
County election officials stopped people from voting twice when election records showed absentee ballots had already been received.
Raffensperger’s warning about voting twice comes after President Donald Trump suggested last week that voters try to cast two ballots, saying “this way you’re guaranteed to have your vote count” while noting that those whose absentee ballots were already received wouldn’t be able to vote again.
In Georgia, Raffensperger, also a Republican, made clear that such attempts would be met with criminal prosecutions.
Double-voting is punishable by one to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000. The Georgia attorney general’s office and local prosecutors will decide whether to bring charges following investigations on a case-by-case basis, Raffensperger said.
Record numbers of people cast absentee ballots before Georgia’s primary election during the coronavirus pandemic, at times overwhelming county election officials. Nearly half of all primary voters used absentee-by-mail ballots, up from about 5 percent of voters who typically cast absentee ballots in state elections.
In all, about 150,000 people who requested absentee ballots showed up at polling places on election day, often because they never received their absentee ballots in the mail or decided to instead vote in person. Those voters' absentee ballots were supposed to be canceled, but that didn’t always happen.
About 1,000 voters in 100 counties both returned absentee ballots and were then allowed to vote in person, Raffensperger said. The number of double-votes amounts to about 0.09 percent of the 1.15 million absentee ballots cast in the primary.
About 60 percent of the double-voters who cast partisan ballots requested Democratic Party ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office. The remaining 40 percent used Republican Party ballots. Nonpartisan ballots weren’t included in the calculation. A list of voters who allegedly cast two ballots wasn’t disclosed because the case is under investigation.
Double-voting didn’t change the outcome of any races, Raffensperger said.
At least one voter has admitted he intentionally voted twice to show it could be done. The Long County voter, Hamilton Evans, told Fox 5 Atlanta last week that he wanted “to prove a point.”
“It’s not set up right,” Evans said. "If I did it, how many other people did it?”
Allegations of double-voting are being investigated in Long County, where a probate judge is seeking a new election.
Absentee voting fraud has been rare in recent years in Georgia, according to a review of State Election Board records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But Raffensperger said the sharp increase in absentee voting this year increased the opportunity for double-voting.
Democratic Party of Georgia Executive Director Scott Hogan said fraud continues to be rare in Georgia elections.
“It is clear that rather than do his job of promoting the safety and security of our voting process, the secretary of state is instead pushing the GOP’s voting conspiracy theories and disinformation,” Hogan said.
Election officials are being retrained on procedures for accepting and canceling absentee ballots, and some counties have taken steps to ensure poll workers can get through on Election Day. For example, Fulton County is creating a call center where poll workers will be able to reach someone to check on the status of absentee ballots when voters attempt to vote in person.
Voters also might have more time to return their absentee ballots, easing the worry that they won’t be counted.
A federal judge ruled last week that absentee ballots should be counted if they’re postmarked by Nov. 3, Election Day, and received by county election officials within three days. Her decision invalidated a state law that required absentee ballots to be received by election day. Raffensperger’s office has appealed that decision.
Election officials, including Raffenpserger, are encouraging voters to cast absentee ballots in the general election, easing the load on packed polling places.
Voters can order absentee ballots through a website that Raffensperger’s office launched this month. Between the website and paper applications, about 900,000 people have requested absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 general election so far.
How to Vote Absentee in Georgia
All registered voters in Georgia are eligible to request absentee ballots without having to provide an excuse.
Voters can order an absentee ballot online by visiting ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov or by mailing a paper absentee ballot request form available through the secretary of state’s website.
Voters can check their registration information, polling places and absentee ballot status on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.