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US House panel seeks records on Georgia election ‘problems’

By BEN NADLERMarch 6, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2019 file photo, Gov. Brian Kemp addresses the 2019 Season Joint Budget hearings in Atlanta. In letters dated Wednesday, March 6, 2019, a U.S. House committee is seeking a trove of information from Georgia’s governor and secretary of state as it investigates reports of voter registration problems and other issues reported during the state’s 2018 elections. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2019 file photo, Gov. Brian Kemp addresses the 2019 Season Joint Budget hearings in Atlanta. In letters dated Wednesday, March 6, 2019, a U.S. House committee is seeking a trove of information from Georgia’s governor and secretary of state as it investigates reports of voter registration problems and other issues reported during the state’s 2018 elections. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — A U.S. House committee is seeking a trove of information from Georgia’s governor and secretary of state as it investigates reports of voter registration problems and other issues during the state’s 2018 elections.

In letters dated Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform told Georgia’s new Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that it’s “investigating recent reports of serious problems with voter registration, voter access and other matters affecting the ability of people in Georgia to exercise their right to vote.”

The letters ask both men for extensive information concerning those allegations.

The committee is now Democrat-controlled. Kemp and Raffensperger are Republicans.

When asked about the information request and probe during a midday news conference Wednesday, Kemp pushed back.

He said, “They need to quit playing politics up there,” and said the U.S. House should focus on providing relief to south Georgia farmers still reeling from Hurricane Michael’s damage in October. He did not mention voting or elections in his response.

Kemp served as Georgia’s chief election officer while he ran for governor. Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams has alleged he mismanaged the election, an allegation that Kemp has denied.

A nonprofit group founded by Abrams last week released over 200 sworn statements gathered as part of an ongoing legal challenge to the way the state’s elections are run.

They included statements from Georgia voters who experienced long lines, last-minute polling place changes, missing or incorrect voter registration records and malfunctioning machines, among other issues.

The letters, signed by Democratic U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and Jamie Raskin, both from Maryland, ask for documents relating to Georgia’s aggressive voter roll maintenance and the state’s “exact match” policy, which allows election officials to hold in pending status any voter registration applications that don’t precisely match driving and Social Security records.

An Associated Press analysis in October found 53,000 applications held in pending status just before the 2018 elections, 70 percent of them from black Georgians.

It also found that over 1.4 million voter registrations had been cancelled since 2012. Some of those cancelled registrations were from voters who died or moved, but others were cancelled solely for failing to vote in several election cycles.

Kemp’s office said at the time that it was merely following state law, and that those laws help safeguard elections against voter fraud.

The letters also ask for any documents related to Kemp’s announcement just ahead of the election that the Democratic Party of Georgia was being investigated in an alleged hacking attempt on the state elections system. He offered no evidence to support that concern.

Raffensperger said in a statement emailed to the AP that he “looks forward to an open dialogue and a thorough process.”

The letters came the same day that a state Senate committee gave the green light to a wide-ranging elections bill that would move Georgia to new touchscreen voting machines that print a paper ballot. The legislation could quickly see a final vote on the Senate floor.

The state House passed the fast-tracked measure last week.

The state Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday approved the legislation in a 7-5 party-line vote, with Republicans in support.

Many Democrats want hand-marked paper ballots, which cybersecurity experts say are cheaper and more secure.

The legislation would also make changes to several areas of Georgia election law mentioned in the letters to Kemp and Raffensperger

It would ease the state’s strict “exact match” standard for verifying voter registrations and clarify when polling places can be closed or moved, measures proposed earlier by Democrats.

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