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State & Regional Govt & Politics

    A bill introduced in the Georgia House would stop the government from purging voters just because they didn’t vote in a recent election. Democratic House Minority Leader Bob Trammell proposed the legislation Friday after more than 1.4 million voter registrations were canceled in Georgia since 2012, in many cases because they hadn’t exercised their right to vote for several years. “With today’s technology, there’s no excuse that justifies making voting harder rather than simpler,” said Trammell, D-Luthersville. “The process of purging people from the voter registration rolls solely because they haven't voted in recent elections is undemocratic and corrosive to the integrity of our elections process.” The measure, House Bill 6, would eliminate a state law passed in 1997 that allows Georgia’s secretary of state to target inactive voters. Canceling their registrations takes at least six years in Georgia.  Voters can be declared “inactive” if they make no contact with election officials for three years and don’t return a mailed confirmation notice. Inactive voters’ registrations can then be canceled if they don’t participate in any elections or have contact with election officials for the next two federal general election cycles. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the legality of eliminating inactive voters from voter lists. Supporters of the law, including Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, have said it helps prevent fraud and ensures accurate voter rolls. Registrations can also be canceled when voters move, die or are convicted of a felony, among other reasons.
  • Gov.-elect Brian Kemp emerged from his narrow victory resolved to pursue the conservative campaign promises that helped energize Republicans to secure him a record number of gubernatorial votes, even if that means wading deep into divisive social debates. Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News in an exclusive interview Monday that he will not retreat from pledges to enact new abortion restrictions or gun rights expansions, even as he pushes for teacher pay raises and other initiatives aimed at a broader electorate. “Everything I’ve talked about in the campaign I’m planning on doing. That’s something I’ve prided myself on: doing exactly what I tell people when I’m running,” he said. “I’ve been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And I’m going to continue to do that,” Kemp added. “I’ve been a strong supporter of life. And I’m going to continue to do that. I’ve been a conservative when it comes to budgeting issues and streamlining government. “That’s what Georgians want — someone who is going to go to work.” Kemp underscored his conservative approach by unveiling a transition team on Monday studded with dozens of well-known Republicans. The group included state legislators, conservative activists, prominent financiers and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Asked whether the transition team was a sign that he’s not abandoning conservative policies in pursuit of a more moderate stance, Kemp was swift to concur. “You can’t run from your roots of who you are. But those conservatives, many of them worked across the aisle in the Legislature or on the local level or in their communities,” he said. “And that’s what they’ll do on the committee to move the agenda forward to help all Georgians.” Whether he ultimately pursues more centrist policies after his narrow defeat of Democrat Stacey Abrams remains unknown. He doesn’t take office until January, and over the next two months his transition team will hone his policies, hash out a budget plan and suggest appointments to top posts. But some critics are urging Kemp to take a broader approach after he won the election with just 50.2 percent of the vote thanks to huge margins in rural Georgia that overcame Democratic dominance in densely populated areas, including metro Atlanta. “I understand the desire and need to placate one’s base,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a suburban Atlanta Democrat who coasted to another term. “But the clear lesson of the election is that approach has serious long-term risks. The governor-elect won by only 1.4 percent of the vote — and that’s with him overseeing the election,” Holcomb said. “He has very little margin of error, and he risks further alienating the most populous and growing parts of the state.” ‘What I’m focused on’ The Republican suggested his first-year agenda will almost certainly include a teacher pay package that will top $600 million, a proposal to cut taxes and business regulations, and an increase of a popular tax credit program designed to shore up struggling rural hospitals. But he also made clear he’s not running from social issues, such as his support for legislation known as “constitutional carry” that would let gun owners conceal and carry handguns without a permit, or his vow to “sign the toughest abortion laws in the country.” That also includes support for a contentious “religious liberty” proposal despite threats from some Hollywood actors and executives to boycott the state and its booming film industry. They warn it would amount to legalized discrimination and tarnish the state’s business reputation. Kemp and other supporters say such a measure would protect people of faith from government intrusion, as well as strengthen legal protections for opponents of gay marriage. And he repeated his stance that he would only support a mirror copy of the version of federal law adopted in 1993 by a bipartisan vote. “I support the exact language that’s in the federal statute now. It protects religious freedom, which we should absolutely do. It does not discriminate,” he said. “And I’ve been very clear on that. I’ll veto anything less and I’ll veto anything more.” The former secretary of state said he was not dwelling on Abrams’ refusal to call the election “legitimate” or her fiery words accusing him of abusing his office. And he was dismissive of the litigation her new advocacy group, Fair Fight Georgia, was planning to file this week targeting his “gross mismanagement” of elections. “They’ve been filing all kinds of lawsuits. A lot of good resources were wasted on some of these ridiculous lawsuits. What she does in the future is her business,” he said. “I’ve got to be the governor of the state, and that’s going to be my business. That’s what I’m focused on.” Kemp, however, hinted that he was open to legislation next year that goes beyond replacing outdated voting equipment to include new standards on some voting policies. He would not elaborate but said any action should address concerns from local elections officials and take a “methodical” approach. “I’ve said all along you have to have an orderly process,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is to move quickly and not have it work.” ‘I guarantee you’ Kemp’s transition team telegraphed his embrace of the conservative wing of the party. The most prominent name was Price, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act who resigned from his post in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet amid scandal in September 2017 after racking up at least $1 million in travel on private and military jets. Kemp said Price, an orthopedic surgeon and former U.S. House member, will help him hone health care policy that includes a staunch opposition to expanding Medicaid but a promise to seek federal waivers to help stabilize insurance premiums. “He’s a very smart man. He’s dealt a lot on health care, and all of the situations he’s been in over the years, he’s certainly learned a lot,” Kemp said. “He brings a lot of value, and you can see from the team we have a very diverse team from a lot of different backgrounds.” Other members of the group include Virginia Galloway of the Georgia chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative advocacy group; Alec Poitevint, a Sonny Perdue ally and former Republican National Committee leader; and ex-U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who ran for president in 2008 as a Libertarian. Even as he pointed toward the future, Kemp also invoked the past: His razor-thin election victory in 2002 over Democratic state Sen. Doug Haines, a victory in a left-leaning Athens-based district that launched his political career. That tight win has become a touchstone for Kemp in the weeks after his defeat of Abrams left a significant portion of the Democratic electorate furious — and convinced he leveraged his role as the state’s top elections official to suppress votes. Kemp said he was bombarded with criticism after his victory 16 years ago, as neighbors and community leaders predicted he would be “terrible for the district.” “But you know what I did? I did exactly what I said I would do. I represented the values of our district. I worked hard to cut taxes and streamline government,” he said. “You want someone who’s up there fighting for you. I guarantee you I’ll do that.” He sees this election through a similar lens. “I’ve got a great opportunity,” he said, “to prove people who didn’t vote for me wrong.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.
  • Georgia’s top politicians tried to stem a revolt from some Hollywood executives who threatened to boycott the state’s booming film industry after Brian Kemp won the race for governor, urging moviemakers not to take their frustration out on thousands of workers who depend on their investments. “The hard-working Georgians who serve on crews and make a living here are not to blame,” wrote Democrat Stacey Abrams, whose campaign for governor benefited from the filmmaking industry’s support, in a message on Twitter. “I promise: We will fight – and we will win.” And the governor-elect’s campaign tried to tone down the rhetoric, with a statement Sunday reinforcing his support for the film tax credit and asserting that “it’s time to move past divisive politics and work together toward a safer, stronger Georgia.” The threats came from a handful of prominent movie industry insiders after 10 days of post-election drama ended with final vote tallies showing Kemp edged out Abrams by roughly 55,000 votes. Abrams ended her campaign with a fiery speech in which she announced a new group to challenge Kemp’s “gross mismanagement” of the election in court. Some of the Hollywood critics voiced concern about Kemp’s support for a controversial “religious liberty” measure that Abrams staunchly opposed, as well as claims that Kemp abused his role as secretary of state to suppress votes and boost his campaign for governor. Several actors used a #BoycottGeorgia hashtag on Twitter, including actress Alyssa Milano — who shot Netflix’s “Insatiable” in Atlanta, “West Wing” actor Bradley Whitford, actor Steven Pasquale and Ron Perlman. “To all my friends who are studio and network executives,” wrote Perlman, a producer and actor, “if you choose to shoot movies and tv in Georgia, don’t bother to call me.” Hollywood South? The film industry has exploded in Georgia since the tax incentives were first signed into law in 2005, turning the state into one of the most popular filming locations in the world and spawning a string of studios, editing hubs and post-production businesses that cater to filmmakers. Gov. Nathan Deal has jealously guarded the tax credit from any threat from fiscal conservatives who want to weaken the program, which is the most generous in the country in terms of direct payouts in part because it doesn’t cap the incentives. His office said in August that a record 455 productions were shot in Georgia in the last fiscal year, garnering a record $9.5 billion economic impact and $2.7 billion in direct spending. The program is so popular, in fact, that Kemp and other leading Republicans all supported the tax credits during the primary earlier this year - even as they called for reviews or the elimination of other tax breaks they described as wasteful spending, something that rarely, if ever, actually happens. Still, that hasn’t eliminated tension between a largely liberal Hollywood establishment and a Deep South state where Republicans have controlled every statewide office for much of the last decade. One of the biggest flashpoints is a perennial battle over “religious liberty” legislation that supporters say is needed to provide extra legal protections to the faith-based, but critics call state-sanctioned discrimination. The governor vetoed the legislation in 2016 amid a swirl of threats from filmmakers and other business titans to leave Georgia, and lawmakers haven’t passed the measure since. But Kemp has promised to sign a version of the proposal that mirrors a federal law passed with bipartisan support in 1993. ‘Happy middle ground’ And Republicans have regularly targeted the movie industry on the campaign trail, either to galvanize conservative supporters or blast Democrats for benefiting from celebrity support. In the Republican runoff, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle called for a boycott of filmmaker Judd Apatow after he criticized President Donald Trump. That led to a rebuke from Deal, who has appeared at red-carpet events in Atlanta and private gatherings in Hollywood to demonstrate his support for the industry. “The film industry should be very cautious of trying to tell Georgia what its social policies should be. They will get reactions if they go too far,” Deal said in an interview then. “And likewise, the state of Georgia should be very cautious telling them what their social policies should be. There’s a happy middle ground, and so far we’ve found it.” And Vice President Mike Pence drew headlines when he declared at a string of campaign stops in Georgia this month that “this ain’t Hollywood” as he assailed Abrams’ high-profile supporters. That led to snickering from Democrats who noted that, in a way, Georgia was Hollywood. Abrams, indeed, benefited from tremendous support from celebrities, including mega-fundraisers featuring Atlanta hip-hop legends, a string of campaign stops from Hollywood stars and a mega-watt pre-election visit from media icon Oprah Winfrey. Abrams received heavy financial backing from filmmakers, directors, producers, actors and actresses, musicians and others in the entertainment industry. She collected more than $4.6 million in contributions of more than $100 from California and New York, the two states that dominate the film, theater, and media industries, according to a review of campaign disclosures. Among her big donors were filmmakers Steven Spielberg ($6,600) and Tyler Perry ($6,600); Milano ($2,750) and fellow actresses Jada Smith ($10,000), Meryl Streep ($1,000), Tracee Ellis Ross ($5,000), Kate Capshaw Spielberg ($6,600) and Tiffany Haddish ($7,500); and actors Will Ferrell ($6,600), Chris Rock ($5,000) and Ben Affleck ($2,500). She also received donations from John Legend ($2,700), Ludacris ($5,000), Marlon Wayans ($5,000), movie director Rob Reiner ($2,000), director Seith Mann ($6,800) and celebrity couple Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman ($5,000). Abrams also received backing from the Georgia Production Partnership ($5,000), the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition ($2,500) and the Film Workers PAC ($6,600). The groups also contributed to Kemp’s campaign. Georgians in the film industry amplified Abrams’ warnings against a boycott. Jacob York, an actor and writer on a program on Atlanta-based Adult Swim, urged Hollywood executives to think about the lives they would affect if they pull the plug on Georgia productions. “When you say #BoycottGeorgia, you boycott me paying rent,” York wrote on social media. “You boycott raising kids, paying for braces and trying to make a living. All the artists I know in Georgia are mad as hell. But you saying ‘boycott Georgia’ primarily hurts people who already agree with you.” Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.
  • Her campaign for governor may be over, but Stacey Abrams is not going away. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she’s not ruling out a run for another public office, perhaps as early as 2020. But before she considers a new campaign, she is throwing her energy behind a new federal lawsuit alleging mismanagement and malfeasance at nearly every level of Georgia’s electoral process. “That does not happen in a functional democracy, and this cannot be repeated in any future election,” she said Saturday. “Georgia is too important of a state, and democracy is too core to who we are.” A team of lawyers is gathering testimony from election workers, academics and statisticians as they prepare the lawsuit, said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign manager. The goal of the suit, which is still being finalized, will be to lay bare the state’s voter registration and elections system and dissect why and how the issues occurred. “Literally just every day, this suit kind of grows and changes because the problems are so profound,” Groh-Wargo said. Abrams said the lawsuit, which will fall under the umbrella of a new organization called Fair Fight Georgia, will look toward improving the state’s election system prior to municipal elections in 2019 and the 2020 presidential election. Fair Fight may also push for legislative changes at the Capitol, and Abrams said it will hold the state accountable for running elections fairly. “We have to consider all the pieces that go into voter suppression and diminishing the ability of voters to cast their ballots,” she said. “And that means looking at the staffing and sourcing of polling stations, making sure that there are an adequate number of machines, making certain that poll workers who are often volunteers aren’t judging whether or not someone gets to vote based on how many pieces of paper they have left.” As for whether she will challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue in 2020 or seek another bid for governor in four years, Abrams is mum. But she is confident her legal challenges will help continue to expand Georgia’s electorate. “We know that over the next two years there will be new people who will find themselves energized by politics,” she said. “And I think what we can do in 2020 is absolutely complete the transformation that started this year. It won’t only be at the top of the ticket, but also down the ticket.” She added: “I believe that Georgia is on the path to progress, and I intend to be a part of it.” New approach Long before Abrams was on the gubernatorial ballot, she told anyone who would listen that her party’s future in Georgia depended on rallying a new core of voters often neglected by candidates. Her New Georgia Project voter registration effort aimed to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of left-leaning minority voters who often skip midterms. And her campaign launched with a focus on energizing liberals rather than aiming for moderates who vote for the GOP. That she ended up winning both blocs of voters in her history-making quest to become the nation’s first black female governor is an enduring irony of the race. That surge helped her earn more votes than any Democrat in Georgia history — but left her about 17,000 ballots short of forcing a runoff against Brian Kemp, who earned the most votes of any Georgia gubernatorial candidate ever. “While we did not do as well in South Georgia as we hoped, we actually did not get blown out of the water,” Abrams said Saturday. “And I think that’s one of the reasons we had such a high-water mark in this election because we turned out voters across the state.” Her strength at the top of the ticket helped further polarize Georgia’s political map. She powered Democrats to a sweep of the metro Atlanta suburbs, carving a blue streak through areas Republicans have long dominated to help flip a U.S. House seat and win about a dozen down-ticket legislative races. But she foundered in rural and exurban territories where Republicans reign, despite peppering her schedule with visits to GOP territory in places such as Whitfield and Cherokee counties. Kemp outdid even Donald Trump in some of those areas, helped by the president’s endorsement, while Abrams often fastidiously avoided talking about the commander in chief. The focus on state-related issues was core to a strategy that helped turn out hundreds of thousands of new and irregular voters to the polls — a corps of Georgians she liked to call “unlikely voters.” It worked: More than 800,000 voters who skipped the 2014 midterm cast early ballots for this contest, including more than 260,000 minorities. Now she is hoping to keep those same voters active and engaged even as she acknowledges their collective disappointment in the midterm results. “That’s why I was so clear in my message that we can’t turn to apathy,” she said, adding: “Every time there have been questions or issues with the administration of elections, what happens is people get angry for a moment or they just turn off. That allows the system to continue to erode.” Bowing out Abrams said she decided not to make the usual concession speech because that would not have been consistent with her campaign mission to always tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. Her speech was full of critiques of Kemp’s tenure as secretary of state and laid the groundwork for the lawsuit she announced the following day. “If you know something is wrong, you cannot be silent, whether it’s wrong that you’ve done or wrong that someone else has done.” she said. “And my responsibility was to call out that wrong.” Fair Fight Georgia, the lawsuit and anything else she does from here will be about trying find the root causes of those wrongs and fix them, Abrams said. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said he looks forward to seeing what she is able to produce. “Our voting process is archaic and subject to corruption in this process, and it’s unreliable and untrustworthy,” he said. “I think Stacey is going to dedicate herself to ensuring that changes are made and that we will have a voting system in Georgia that we will all be proud of.” She is not ready to say whether she will run for public office again. But she believes Georgia is a battleground state that will continue to draw national attention, and she wants to be more than a case study or cautionary tale. “It is insufficient to say there is a problem and then exonerate yourself from having to do anything about it because you didn’t get the result you wanted,” she said. “My job since my parents raised me has been to see a problem, find a solution and then be responsible for the execution of that solution. And that is what I’ going to do.” Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.
  • Update: Brian Kemp confirmed as governor-elect Stacey Abrams halted her run for Georgia governor Friday, but the Democrat said she would not concede the contest to Republican Brian Kemp and planned to launch a voting rights group to file “major” litigation challenging election policies. As state officials prepare to certify the vote, Abrams acknowledged the law “allows no further viable remedy” to extend her quest to be the nation’s first black female governor. But she laced her speech with biting criticism of Kemp, whom she accused of leveraging his role as the state’s top elections official to suppress voters.  “I will not concede,” she added, “because the erosion of our democracy is not right.” Kemp, who stepped down as secretary of state two days after the election, swiftly thanked Abrams for her “passion, hard work and commitment to public service,” ratcheting down divisive rhetoric he’d long used to describe her.  “The election is over and hardworking Georgians are ready to move forward,” Kemp said. “We can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past but must focus on Georgia’s bright and promising future.” Abrams’ speech marked the end of a campaign that made her a national star by embracing liberal issues in a state where Democrats often run toward the middle of the electorate.  She promised to enact gun control measures and decriminalize drug offenses even as she peppered her policies with centrist appeals for Medicaid expansion and increased school funding.  Abrams aimed to smash the GOP’s 16-year-old grip on Georgia’s top office by building a new coalition that united liberal voters, suburban moderates and left-leaning minorities by relentlessly targeting voters who often skipped midterm elections.  But the “beautiful red wall” Kemp boasted of building in rural areas sidelined her quest. With President Donald Trump’s unabashed support, Kemp ran up huge vote margins in deeply conservative Georgia territory, giving him the highest vote total of any governor in state history. Trump sent out a tweet Friday evening saluting Kemp’s victory while also praising Abrams.  “Congratulations to Brian Kemp on becoming the new Governor of Georgia,” Trump wrote. “Stacey Abrams fought brilliantly and hard - she will have a terrific political future! Brian was unrelenting and will become a great Governor for the truly Wonderful People of Georgia!”  Before she stopped her bid for governor, Abrams’ campaign was considering a long-shot legal challenge under a law that allows losing candidates to contest the election in the case of misconduct, fraud or “irregularities.” She would have faced a tremendous legal burden to prove her case, and even some Democrats warned that prolonging the court battle would jeopardize two down-ticket runoffs set for next month.  The secretary of state was expected to certify the election late Friday or early Saturday and cement Kemp’s victory in the tightest race for Georgia governor since 1966. The latest tally showed Abrams roughly 55,000 votes behind Kemp — and she would have needed more than 17,000 votes to force a Dec. 4 runoff. Georgia law requires a runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, which is only a possibility because a third-party contender netted about 1 percent. ‘Not a speech of concession’ Abrams’ campaign has long tried to make the case that Kemp used his role as secretary of state to make it harder for people to vote. He’s countered by pointing to record voter registration numbers and the nearly 4 million people who cast ballots in this race.   In her fiery speech, Abrams cited long lines at voting sites, closed polling stations and the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of voter registrations. “To watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling,” Abrams said. “So, let’s be clear. This is not a speech of concession. Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that. But my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy.” To have a chance in court, Abrams would have had to prove there were enough Georgians blocked from voting to close the gap. Her campaign apparently could not meet that requirement.  Unchanged dynamics Kemp’s lead had dwindled since Election Day as absentee and provisional ballots trickled in. But as more counties completed their vote tallies, Abrams and her allies claimed there were thousands of outstanding ballots that never materialized. Her campaign also went to court to force local officials to accept some previously rejected ballots. She secured one court order that required elections officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots, though it didn’t require those votes to be accepted.  Another ruling required the state to count absentee ballots with incorrect birthdate data, but it rejected an effort to accept provisional ballots cast in the wrong counties. That order, by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, set off a scramble by county officials to revisit rejected ballots. But it left Kemp’s lead virtually unchanged, even as the biggest trove of those votes, in Gwinnett County, was added to the total.  Those final ballots in Gwinnett also likely cemented the contest for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall led Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by about 400 votes, though her campaign on Friday said it will request a recount. Some pushback Abrams has long hinted at more litigation challenging “irregularities” at polling sites, and she targeted what she claimed was Kemp’s abuse of the Secretary of State’s Office. But she determined that new legal action wouldn’t prevent Kemp’s victory.  “Now, I could certainly bring a new case to keep this one contest alive, but I don’t want to hold public office if I need to scheme my way into the post,” she said.” Because the title of governor isn’t nearly as important as our shared title: voters.”  Some Abrams’ allies had raised alarms that the prospect of extending her legal fight would shift attention away from a pair of Democratic candidates who are already in a runoff: John Barrow for secretary of state and Lindy Miller for the Public Service Commission.  “I totally concur with the notion that every vote should be counted,” said Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb County chief executive and a former Democratic state labor commissioner. “And going forward, the most effective way to do that is to focus on electing John Barrow as the next secretary of state.” Abrams' next steps are uncertain. Some Democrats, such as former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, are encouraging her to challenge U.S. Senate David Perdue, who stands for re-election in 2020.   “Never stop. Keep using this energy,” Darden said. “Keep using these new voters.”   Others, though, want her to consider running for the U.S. House if a seat is vacated or joining a national voting rights advocacy group. Kemp, meanwhile, has quickly plunged into the work of transitioning to power.  Several of his aides were at the Capitol this week to meet with state legislators and scope out executive offices. And he’s met with Gov. Nathan Deal to present himself as the victor, even as his campaign blasted Abrams for refusing to concede. That feud escalated early Friday, when Kemp’s campaign called for Abrams to end her “ridiculous temper tantrum and concede.” Minutes after Abrams’ speech, Kemp struck a far more conciliatory tone. “I humbly ask for citizens of our great state to stand with me in the days ahead,” he said.  “Together, we will realize the opportunities and tackle the challenges to come,” Kemp said. “We will be a state that puts hardworking Georgians — no matter their ZIP code or political preference — first.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.
  • After several years of absentee voter data disappeared from Georgia’s election website last weekend, it’s now back online with a significant change. The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office removed information showing which voters needed assistance because they were elderly or disabled. “What we wanted to do was protect our vulnerable populations,” said Katie Byrd, spokeswoman for the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, which recommended the change. “We got a lot of complaints from concerned citizens who this affected, as well as advocacy groups. They were highly uncomfortable with that information being posted online.” Absentee voter information remains public record in Georgia, but McCreary said it doesn’t all need to be posted on the state government’s elections website, where it could potentially be used in scams that target the elderly and disabled. More than 2.1 million people voted in advance of Election Day, which is a new high for a midterm election in Georgia. Overall, over 3.9 million voters cast ballots in the election. The online absentee voter files still include the names and ballot status of everyone who voted in advance in a recent election. That information is available for voters to find out if their absentee ballots are mailed and counted. By Thursday, the column where voters told election officials they were elderly or disabled had been deleted, and absentee ballot spreadsheets dating back to 2013 were again available on the Secretary of State’s website.
  • Georgia voters who had to cast provisional ballots on Election Day can find out if their votes were counted by calling a new toll-free hotline. The hotline, required by a federal judge’s order, allows voters to call the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office with questions about their provisional ballots. Voters will be told whether their ballots were counted, and if not, the reason why. At least 21,190 voters were issued provisional ballots because their registration information or identification couldn’t be verified at the polls, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg wrote in her ruling Monday that there could be as many as 27,000 provisional ballots. Provisional ballots were only counted if voters’ eligibility could be proven within three days of the election, a deadline that passed Friday. The hotline number is 1-844-537-5375. Voters can also contact their county election offices to check on the status of their provisional ballots.
  • The Georgia Senate’s Republican caucus picked a new leadership team Tuesday, and one of its biggest changes came near the top.  The caucus chose Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, to replace Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, as majority leader of the Senate. Cowsert is the brother-in-law of Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee who has declared victory in the Nov. 6 governor’s election. Kemp’s opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, is contesting the issue in court. Many members of the Senate Republican caucus backed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for the GOP gubernatorial nomination and some were offended by hard-hitting comments made by the Kemp team during the heated summer runoff campaign. Kemp easily beat Cagle after President Donald Trump came out in support of him. Dugan contributed to Cagle’s campaign, although he later also gave to Kemp after he won the nomination. Cowsert contributed about $12,000 to Kemp’s campaign. Another Cagle loyalist, Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, was renominated Senate president pro tem, the second-highest position in the chamber behind the lieutenant governor. Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, was chosen as the new majority caucus vice chairman .
  • A first-term Atlanta senator was among more than a dozen demonstrators who were arrested during a protest in the state Capitol. State Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, said she was standing with her constituents when officers led her out of the Capitol rotunda and placed plastic restraints on her wrists. “I was not yelling. I was not chanting,” she said. “I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I’m being arrested.” Williams said she was handcuffed after she “refused to disperse” from the rotunda. Williams is charged with obstruction, Capitol police said. She was released on a signature bond after being detained for about five hours. Williams said she felt as though she was targeted for standing with protesters concerned about voter suppression. “I stood with constituents to demand that their voices be heard and countless other Georgians who cast ballots on last Tuesday and thought that their votes were counted and are learning now that they’re not,” she said after her release. “I will continue to stand with the citizens of Georgia — and any citizen — to demand that their votes be counted, because that is the bedrock of our democracy.” The other 14 protesters are charged with disrupting the General Assembly. The protest in the rotunda under the Gold Dome was organized by a local Black Lives Matter group to pressure state officials to ensure all absentee and provisional ballots are tallied in the governor’s race between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. Kemp has declared victory. Occasionally, the group of roughly 100 people broke into chants of “count every vote.” Authorities said the demonstration was broken up after several warnings because of rules that prohibit chanting or yelling while lawmakers are in session. Police armed with stacks of plastic restraints circled the protesters as the clocked neared 1:30 p.m.,when the House convened for a special session called by Gov. Nathan Deal. Capitol police said they arrested 15 people, including Williams, who are accused of violating state code that prohibits disruption of “orderly conduct of official business.” Williams and other protesters were taken to the Fulton County jail, where lawmakers and supporters gathered demanding that all 15 people be released without charges. State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, called the arrests a “travesty.” “It’s funny because one in 18 Georgians is under correctional control in the state of Georgia,” she said. “We see this as indicative of the wrong trends in Georgia as it relates to fair elections and people being able to feel safe in their communities.” Williams’ Senate colleagues condemned the lawmaker’s detention. “When a sitting senator, who is the vice chair of the state Democratic Party, is thrown into a paddy wagon at the state capitol it is a stark reminder that our right to freely assemble is at risk,” said state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.  Williams is the first vice chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia. Party Chairman DuBose Porter said Williams was arrested “for doing her job where she works.” 'Today, (Williams) was arrested at the Georgia State Capitol while standing up for her constituents' right to peaceful protest and advocating to count every Georgian's vote,” Porter said. “We stand with her and with all Georgians whose Constitutional rights are at risk. “ Georgia includes a provision requiring that legislators “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo criticized legislative leaders for arresting protesters concerned about voter suppression.  “Today there were people who came to the Capitol to raise this issue,” Groh-Wargo said. “They were literally only asking to be heard. Demanding that this state count every vote.”  She thanked Williams for standing with the protesters. “I applaud her bravery and we stand with voters and their story and demand that they count every vote,” Groh-Wargo said. Staff reporter Tia Mitchell contributed to this report.
  • Georgia’s tight races for governor and Congress remained unsettled Tuesday as last-minute votes trickled in, protests rocked the Capitol and judges issued rulings to ensure more ballots are counted. After a day filled with post-election drama, final vote counts are still at least two days away and Democrat Stacey Abrams needs to gain more than 17,000 votes to force a runoff in the race for governor against Republican Brian Kemp. Meanwhile, the contest for the 7th Congressional District was closer than ever, with Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux trailing Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall by about 500 votes. That margin could narrow further because hundreds of votes from Gwinnett County are still pending. The federal courts are the wild cards in both races. Several ongoing court cases leave open the possibility that previously rejected absentee and provisional ballots could still be tallied, even after Tuesday’s deadline for counties to certify their election results. Attention focused on Gwinnett, where election officials tallied roughly 2,000 provisional ballots late Tuesday but said they won’t complete their count until Thursday because of a judge’s order on absentee votes. Democrats were overjoyed by court rulings and additional vote counts that chipped away at Kemp’s lead. Federal judges this week ordered election officials to review thousands of provisional ballots, prevented the state from finalizing election results before Friday evening, and required Gwinnett officials to accept roughly 300 absentee ballots with errors or omissions in birthdates. Under state law, the deadline to certify the election is Nov. 20. It’s unclear how many additional ballots could still be counted. Provisional ballots were cast by voters whose information could not be immediately verified at polling places, while absentee ballots had previously been rejected because of missing or erroneous information, even in cases when voters’ identities could be verified through other means. Still, Abrams faces daunting odds and a tightening window to gain ground on Kemp, who has said it’s mathematically impossible for the Democrat to force a Dec. 4 runoff. His aides have blasted Abrams for “frivolous” lawsuits and her refusal to concede, and said even if Abrams wins all the outstanding votes still untallied that it won’t be enough for her to overcome the gap. “BREAKING: Abrams still can’t force this into a runoff,” one Kemp staffer, Austin Chambers, posted Tuesday on Twitter. No major media outlet has declared a winner in either race, and with a margin this tight several organizations said they would reassess after counties certify. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not call election contests. Tensions grow more heated The fiercest legal fight centers on provisional ballots cast by voters whose information often could not be immediately verified at polling places. State records indicate roughly 21,000 of those ballots were cast statewide, but Abrams’ campaign says its survey of data shows about 5,000 more. “Every hour that goes by, additional votes are processed. Some we know about, some we don’t know about,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager. “Our position is count the provisionals, count the absentees — and don’t rush the process.” After taking a conciliatory tone toward the vote-counting effort, Woodall on Monday criticized Bourdeaux and other Democrats for filing litigation “to try to overrule our local, bipartisan officials.” He and other Republicans are nervously watching a pair of court rulings that could tighten their leads by counting more ballots that were previously rejected. A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Gwinnett officials must still count absentee ballots that contain errors or omissions in birthdates, a court order that could affect roughly 300 ballots that were rejected there. Gwinnett officials said Tuesday that they need two more days to review those ballots before certifying their results. And a separate ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Monday ordered election officials to review as many as 27,000 provisional ballots that were cast because voters’ registration or identification couldn’t be verified at the polls. Totenberg’s order didn’t say whether additional provisional ballots should be counted, but she required officials to provide more information about provisional ballots that were cast by voters because their registrations couldn’t be verified or because they didn’t appear at their correct precincts. That case is ongoing. In addition, a third federal judge was considering whether to order all Georgia counties statewide to count absentee ballots that are missing correct birthdate information on the envelope. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, who said in court he will issue a decision by noon Wednesday, also will rule on whether people who tried to vote in a county where they weren’t registered and were given provisional ballots will have their votes counted. While Kemp’s campaign stayed relatively quiet, Abrams and her Democratic allies upped the pressure. The Democratic Party of Georgia and Abrams launched a new 30-second ad on Tuesday stressing the need to count all ballots. A slate of potential Democratic presidential candidates rallied behind Abrams in Washington. And a demonstration of support for Abrams under the Gold Dome quickly grew tense. As a crowd of more than 100 people chanted “count every vote” a few steps from Kemp’s former office, police detained about a dozen demonstrators for violating rules prohibiting yelling while the General Assembly is in session. Among them was state Sen. Nikema Williams, a first-term Atlanta Democrat who said she was standing with her constituents when officers put plastic restraints on her wrists and led her away. “I was not yelling. I was not chanting,” she said. “I stood peacefully next to my constituents because they wanted their voices to be heard, and now I’m being arrested.” Staff writers Jamie Dupree, Tyler Estep, Tamar Hallerman, Tia Mitchell and Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.