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Georgia Politics

    As Georgia’s next top elections official, Republican Brad Raffensperger promises to defend broad voter-registration cancellations and strict voting requirements that have fueled accusations of widespread disenfranchisement. Raffensperger, the winner of Tuesday’s runoff for Georgia secretary of state, will continue the work of his predecessor, Gov.-elect Brian Kemp. Democrat John Barrow conceded to Raffensperger on Wednesday. While voter fraud is rare in Georgia, Raffensperger emphasizes election integrity over easy access to voting. He plans to cancel registrations of inactive voters, as Kemp did when more than 1.4 million people were removed from the state’s voting list starting in 2012. “Making sure we keep the voter list up to date so it’s clean, fresh and accurate, it’s very important,” Raffensperger said. “Ten to 15 percent of Georgians move every year. Just in four short years, your list could really start becoming dirty, and I think this is a recipe for open doors for voter fraud.” Georgia laws already prevent fraud by making voters show photo ID at their polling places, officials said. Raffensperger said he will uphold high identification standards before Georgians can cast a ballot. But he’ll also likely face prolonged legal battles over Georgia’s elections. At least 12 lawsuits over voting rights, voting machines and registration processes are pending in federal and superior courts. Over the past few weeks, several judges have issued orders to count more absentee and provisional ballots, and to extend vote-counting deadlines to ensure legitimate ballots aren’t discarded. The most sweeping court challenge will attempt to overhaul the state’s elections after thousands of voters reported obstacles such as purged registrations, canceled ballots and long lines. “Yesterday’s election proved once again why Georgians deserve a fair fight. From precincts with no voting cards to voters who just yesterday received their absentee ballot, we know that this runoff was also subject to our state’s gross mismanagement of our elections,” said Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo, who was Democrat Stacey Abrams’ campaign manager in her run for governor. “Fair Fight will continue to push Georgia to fulfill the most fundamental promise of democracy — the right for voters to have their voice heard and their vote counted.” Raffensperger’s supporters said they’re disgusted by court fights over an election system that works well for most Georgians. “These questions have been real late to come up,” Lynne Byrd said Tuesday outside the Dunwoody Library precinct. “It’s a lot of nonsense.” Another Dunwoody voter, Joe Thibadeau, said he wants to maintain strong photo ID requirements so that only U.S. citizens can vote, which was a theme of Raffensperger’s campaign. “I think there’s fraud. I’ve always felt that,” Thibadeau said. “Every vote should count, but we should follow the rules.” Barrow accepted defeat Wednesday, saying Raffensperger’s 57,000-vote lead was too large to overcome even though thousands of absentee, provisional and overseas ballots could still be counted before election results are finalized. A federal judge last week ordered that absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday be counted. “Though the outcome was not what we had wanted, what we’re working for is more important than ever: elections that are as fair and as accurate as they are secure,” Barrow said. “In these polarized times, that may seem like a never ending struggle, but it’s a struggle that’s always worth the fight.” Barrow’s backers said they want fair elections that make it easy for all eligible voters to participate in democracy, without encountering government hurdles such canceled registrations and closed precincts. County election officials have closed 214 precincts across the state since 2012, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Those kinds of things are systematic, to make it as difficult to vote as possible,” said Patrick Blackburne, a Dunwoody voter who supported Barrow. Raffensperger said he wants to ensure legitimate voters can cast their ballots. And while he plans to continue regular voter registration cancellations, he has said he supports sending emails or text messages to inactive voters before they’re removed from voting lists. His first priority will be replacing the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting machines with a system that leaves a paper trail to ensure accurate results. The Georgia General Assembly will consider bills next year to buy a statewide voting system at a cost of $20 million to more than $100 million. “We’ll have up-to-date, cyber-secure voting machines with a verifiable paper audit trail,” Raffensperger said. “What are the good systems out there that are cyber-secure, move voters through the line, very efficient and very accurate?” Raffensperger said he won’t decide which voting technology is best until each is fully vetted, but he likes a system called ballot-marking devices. Touchscreen machines are used to print paper ballots and prevent human errors. Another option is hand-marked paper ballots, which voters would fill out manually and then insert into optical scanning machines.
  • A redo election for a North Georgia seat in the state House of Representatives remained unsettled Tuesday, with just three votes separating the two Republican candidates. The repeat election between state Rep. Dan Gasaway and challenger Chris Erwin was ordered by a judge because dozens of voters received ballots for the wrong districts in the original May 22 Republican Party primary election. Erwin led Gasaway after all Election Day votes were reported, but provisional and overseas ballots were still pending. It’s unclear how many of those ballots were outstanding. They could still be counted if they’re received by election officials by Friday. The incomplete vote count Tuesday night was 3,516 for Erwin and 3,513 for Gasaway. Gasaway trailed Erwin by 67 votes in the first Republican primary election. No Democrats ran for the state House seat, meaning whoever wins Tuesday’s second Republican primary election will become the district’s representative. House District 28 covers all of Banks and Stephens counties, as well as about half of Habersham County.
  • Republican candidates appeared to hold onto two powerful Georgia offices in runoffs Tuesday, but ballots were still being counted for secretary of state and Public Service Commission. Republican Brad Raffensperger declared victory over Democrat John Barrow in the race for Georgia secretary of state, one of Georgia’s most powerful government positions with responsibility for elections, business registration and professional licensing. “I want every Georgian to know I’m going to be fighting for them. I am going to make sure elections are clean, fair and accurate, and that’s my No. 1 priority as your next secretary of state,” Raffensperger said. “I’m very humbled and very honored to have won this race tonight.” Raffensperger held a lead of more than 57,000 votes, but about 72,000 absentee ballots were still outstanding as of Tuesday night. Those ballots will be counted if they were postmarked by Tuesday and received by election officials by this Friday. Barrow didn’t concede the race. “This has been a highly contested election,” Barrow said. “However, all of the absentee votes have not yet been counted. ... Therefore, in order to make sure that every voice is heard, we need to make sure that every vote is counted. I'll wait for the remaining ballots to come in — and for them to be counted.” In the race for Public Service Commission District 3, incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton was leading Democrat Lindy Miller, a businesswoman and former Deloitte executive. Eaton is seeking a third six-year term on the regulatory body. The Associated Press called the races for both Raffensperger and Eaton on Tuesday night. The campaign for secretary of state focused on voting rights and integrity following complaints about voter purges, malfunctioning voting machines and long lines. The winner will take over the job previously held by Republican Brian Kemp before he won last month’s election for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Raffensperger, a state House representative and engineering firm CEO, emphasized fighting voting fraud, which is rare in Georgia in part because voters have to show photo ID. He would uphold regular voter registration cancellations and strict voter ID laws to ensure only U.S. citizens can vote. Barrow, a former U.S. congressman and attorney, would push for changes in Georgia elections to ensure fairness and accuracy. He said it shouldn’t be so easy for Georgians to lose their right to vote after more than 1.4 million registrations were canceled since 2012, often because they hadn’t participated in a recent election. Both candidates support replacing Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a system that includes a verifiable paper trail, but they disagree on the best option. Raffensperger favors using touchscreen machines to print ballots to avoid human errors, while Barrow supports hand-marked paper ballots to directly reflect voters’ choices. The Public Service Commission race has focused on the viability of Georgia Power’s nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle and diversification of the state’s energy mix. The hotly contested election attracted outside money to boost the candidate’s visibility in the election, with a Washington-based pro-nuclear power group injecting more than $1 million toward an advertising campaign supporting Eaton. Miller called the last-minute donation an attempt to “buy the election.” The PSC is tasked with regulating investor-owned electric and natural gas companies operating in the state. It decides how much in rates these companies charge their customers and also approves the state’s energy plans. Besides the two statewide runoffs, a redo election for the Georgia House of Representatives was held in North Georgia. The second election was no clearer than the first, with Chris Erwin holding a three-vote lead after Election Day votes had been counted. But absentee ballots can still be added if they’re returned before the end of the week. Erwin appeared to win the original May 22 GOP primary election over state Rep. Dan Gasaway of Homer by 67 votes, but a judge ordered a new primary after dozens of voters were given the wrong ballots. Erwin is a construction company’s business director and a former Banks County school superintendent. No Democrat ran in the general election, so the primary winner will fill the legislative seat. House District 28 covers all of Banks and Stephens counties, as well as about half of Habersham County. Staff writer Anastaciah Ondieki contributed to this article.
  • Gripping scenes have played out along the U.S.-Mexico border since President Donald Trump ordered troops there ahead of the approaching caravans of migrants, some of whom ran toward a border fence Sunday amid clouds of tear gas fired by U.S. immigration authorities. And Georgians have had front row seats for the action on both sides of the border. Among the 5,600 troops are scores of servicemen from Georgia’s Fort Stewart. Deployed to Texas and Arizona, the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade Headquarters unit is flying federal immigration officials around in Blackhawk helicopters. Troops from the Fort Stewart-based 90th Human Resources Company, which is part of the 3rd Sustainment Brigade, are providing human resources support for the effort at the border.  Further, a Marietta-based Georgia National Guard helicopter crew with four troops is doing reconnaissance and surveillance in the Rio Grande Valley. They are taking part in a mission that predates Trump’s decision to send active duty troops to the border. One of the Georgia Guardsmen, Lt. Col. Jason Ellington, estimated his crew has helped federal immigration authorities locate 50 migrants who have illegally crossed the southwest border since last week.  “It’s been pretty busy,” said Ellington, whose crew is expected to return to Georgia in mid-December. “There are people sometimes in ones and twos and sometimes in thirties and forties coming across the border, either walking across, swimming across, rafting across, you name it.” Meanwhile, Atlanta-area immigration attorneys and volunteers are rushing to the Mexican side of the border. Sarah Owings, an Atlanta-based immigration attorney, arrived in Tijuana Wednesday to provide free legal help for the asylum seekers. She said a shelter there was holding 4,000 people. “People don’t really know what is going on and how it all works,” she said. “So we try to make sure they understand what the law says and that way they have some idea of whether or not they have a case for asylum.” Half of likely U.S. voters support sending U.S. troops to the border to block illegal immigration, according to a national Rasmussen Reports poll conducted in late October, while 42 percent disagree. Troops from across the nation are now erecting fencing, barbed wire and vehicle barriers and providing medical care on the U.S. side. The military’s mission — it has cost taxpayers $72 million so far — is supposed to end Dec. 15. But the Pentagon is now considering keeping troops on the border into January, The New York Times reported Thursday. Trump ordered the troops to the border in the days leading up to the midterm congressional elections, while warning, without evidence, there were criminals, gang members and “unknown Middle Easterners” in the caravans. His critics argued the caravans include women and children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. The president, who has also called the caravans an invasion, defended the use of tear gas at the border, saying the authorities were “being rushed by some very tough people.” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a statement this week saying some of the migrants threw projectiles at U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials as they tried to breach border fences. “We’re here to provide additional resources to CBP, but we’re not here in a law enforcement capacity,” Maj. Sean Stapler, an operations officer for Fort Stewart’s 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade Headquarters and a veteran of four deployments to Afghanistan, said in an email. Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, visited with migrants, including children, in Tijuana this month. She visited to gather research for a pair of lawsuits aimed at thwarting the Trump administration’s restrictive asylum policies. “I just heard so many terrible stories that led people to come and to do their best to access the asylum system, often without success for lots of reasons,” said Bauer, who is based in Atlanta. “They have fled persecution. And the shelters were all full.” “People did not have safe places to stay,” she added. “Lots of people were hungry.” Ariel Prado of Atlanta was heading to Tijuana Thursday to educate asylum seekers about their legal options. “There are so many people in Tijuana right now. And the way the federal government has set it up — they have generated a backlog,” said Prado, a program manager with the Innovation Law Lab, a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants and refugees.
  • In March, custodian Mary Davis was chatting with a friend while on the job at the Georgia World Congress Center cleaning up before a car show when she said a maintenance man emerged from the men’s room with his pants open, waving his penis at the women. Both women filed written sexual harassment complaints to superiors against the man, a 20-year employee named Kennie Jackson. Now, an attorney representing Davis, 62, is seeking $500,000 from the state to compensate for the alleged sexual harassment she endured. Eight months ago, she might have settled for an apology and the feeling that her complaint was taken seriously. “Nobody did nothing except take that statement,” she said, referring to a one-page complaint she said she had to hound officials at the World Congress Center to allow her to make. “What gives him the right to expose himself to me?” Jackson denied the accusation, telling a superior that he had been fastening his pants as he was leaving the restroom and the women “must have seen his finger.” That was enough. Four months later, the World Congress Center closed the case without interviewing Davis, calling the accusation “inconclusive.” Jackson repeated his denial to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a brief phone call before hanging up abruptly. The Georgia World Congress Center incident is typical of many investigations reviewed by the AJC, which has collected more than 200 sexual harassment complaints filed by state workers over the past five years. Often, investigations go no deeper than taking statements from the accuser and the accused. Absent a confession, human resources officials judge the complaint to be unsubstantiated — essentially a default judgment in favor of the accused harasser. One of the main findings of the AJC’s investigation is that sexual harassment investigations in state government are haphazard affairs, at best. While the AJC has found hundreds of complaints, state officials have no idea how many more may be out there or how they are handled. No single office or official acts keeps a global eye on the problem because every department and agency handles their own investigations internally. The top two candidates in Georgia’s still-unsettled gubernatorial election have pledged to overhaul how the state handles sexual harassment claims. GOP candidate Brian Kemp, who has claimed victory over Democratic rival Stacy Abrams, has pledged to issue an executive order designating the office of the state inspector general a clearing house for sexual harassment claims and create a “central review committee” to adjudicate claims. Abrams, who has yet to concede the race, said she would make handling of sexual harassment claims “a more coordinated effort.” That could mean a central body for investigations, but also more centralized leadership and training to make the state’s approach more uniform, she said. Two witnesses, only one interviewed In the World Congress Center complaint, two women claimed they witnessed the act together. Davis said she and custodial worker Margaret Williams were working together in Building C, gathering trash and doing other housekeeping chores when Jackson approached them in front of a women’s bathroom. Davis believed Jackson and Williams knew each other, but she didn’t know Jackson. After a speaking to the woman, Davis said Jackson crossed the corridor and entered the men’s bathroom on the other side. When he reemerged, Davis said Jackson had opened his pants. In a handwritten statement filed the day after the alleged incident, Margaret Williams, the other custodial worker who was talking with Davis, claimed she saw the maintenance man “pull his private part out. And Mary said did you see that, and I said yes.” “He was just killing himself laughing and carrying on,” Davis said in a recent interview with the AJC. “I told him I didn’t find anything funny because he totally disrespected me.” Davis, who works for a private custodial contractor, said she took her concerns to Aundre Goode, facility manager for the World Congress Center, but she said weeks passed without any action. After three weeks of asking, Davis was allowed to dictate a statement to a World Congress Center employee. She was never interviewed or asked any questions. No one followed up as part of any investigation. Investigative notes obtained by the AJC suggest World Congress Center human resources staff may have already reached a conclusion about the claim before Davis was allowed to give a statement. Jackson was interviewed on April 4 — two weeks after the incident. A single page of handwritten notes from the interview indicate that Jackson admitted exiting the restroom with his pants unzipped, but denied exposing himself and that he approached the women the following day “to address their concern.” “Jackson was advised to adjust any behaviors that would be deemed inappropriate or offensive to others,” the investigator wrote. Williams was interviewed two days later. The interview notes amount to less than 100 words and fill less than a page. The notes indicate the investigator pressed Williams on whether she was “100 percent sure what she saw” and noted she had recent cataract surgery. Williams apparently told the investigator that it “looked like his penis” but it could have been a finger. Williams, who is still employed at the World Congress Center, did not return calls seeking comment. Davis gave her statement April 10, but was never interviewed. Davis told the AJC the person taking her statement asked her no questions, but she said she is positive about what she saw. To avoid financial liability in sexual harassment cases, employers are required to show they have done all they can to prevent harassment and provide employees with a chance to address harassment when it occurs. In legal circles, this is known as a Faragher-Ellerth defense after two Supreme Court decisions issued 20 years ago. Eleanor Attwood, a Decatur attorney not associated with the case, said if Davis’ account of the investigation is correct, the World Congress Center may have a problem asserting that defense. “They have to conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation,” Attwood said. “In this circumstance, where you have third-party witness and you don’t even interview her, that Faragher-Ellerth defense would fall flat.” Davis has moved on to her next job working in a downtown hotel. She said she would never take another assignment at the World Congress Center. As a housekeeper, Davis said she often works alone in secluded areas or during the overnight hours. She needs to feel protected from that kind of harassment, she said. “They don’t care what happens there,” she said. “You have to care about your employees.”
  • Seven years ago, Georgia lawmakers approved a small step toward giving patients more knowledge about their doctors. The legislation, amending the state’s Patient Right to Know Act, required physicians to disclose to the Georgia Composite Medical Board whether they have malpractice insurance. The board, in turn, was tasked with adding the information to the doctors’ profiles on the board’s website. But what seemed like a simple thing at the time has proven to be a major challenge for the board and given its critics more fodder. Because of a computer software issue, the board has been unable to update the physician profiles with the insurance information. As a result, patients still don’t have easy access to the information even though the law mandating it has been on the books for seven years. “I think that’s insane,” said Susan Witt, an Atlanta attorney who represents plaintiffs in medical malpractice and other personal injury lawsuits. “Seven years? Give me a break.” While most physicians have malpractice insurance, more than 2,200 doctors with active licenses in Georgia currently have told the board that they don’t have it. The number includes doctors in other states as well as some who wouldn’t need coverage because they work for the government or hold positions in teaching or research, an analysis of medical board data by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. But it also includes physicians with practices throughout Georgia. And in that group, the AJC found, are hundreds specializing in obstetrics, surgery and other high-risk areas. The 2011 legislation was introduced by Dr. Ben Watson, a Savannah internist who had just won a seat in the Georgia House. Fourteen states have laws requiring physicians to have liability coverage in some form, but the law Watson sponsored required only that doctors inform the medical board whether they have insurance and that the board include the information in the physician profiles so it would be easy for patients to find. Now a state senator, Watson expressed surprise when he learned from the AJC that the law still hadn’t been properly implemented. “I just want the consumer — the patient, the family, whomever — to have access to whether their physician has malpractice coverage,” he said. “But it looks like (the board) needs to clean things up, doesn’t it?” LaSharn Hughes, the board’s executive director, said the board has been unable to post the insurance information with the physician profiles because of limitations with its computer system. That should change early next year with the advent of a new system, she wrote in an email. Hughes also cited the problem with the computer system when the AJC first wrote about the law in 2014. Asked why it has taken so long to make a change, she wrote: “It took so long because we were already in a contract with our soon to be former vendor and we could not afford to reconfigure the system. They no longer service our current system.” As a temporary measure, the board has been posting lists on its website showing whether doctors have malpractice insurance, but even that has been problematical. The website linked to two lists, one of which was two years old, until the AJC pointed out the problem recently. Misleading information The insurance issue adds to the questions that have long plagued the board over the physician profiles, which were mandated by the Legislature when it passed the Patient Right to Know Act in 2001. The profiles, posted alongside each doctor on the “Look Up a Licensed Provider” section of the board’s website, are supposed to provide consumers with detailed information, including felony convictions, public disciplinary actions, malpractice judgments and settlements and restrictions on hospital privileges. However, because much of the information is provided by the physicians themselves and isn’t checked by the board, numerous profiles have been found to include ambiguous, misleading or even false statements. Richard Mitchell, an Atlanta attorney who has tried to get the board to correct erroneous information that has appeared on several physicians’ profiles, called the board’s failure to update the profiles with the malpractice insurance information “ridiculous.” “Most people look to see if a doctor has been sued,” he said. “But if they are sophisticated enough to care about that, they probably also would want to know if (the doctor) has malpractice insurance.” Practicing without insurance, known as “going bare,” makes a doctor personally responsible for compensating patients who claim they have been harmed. In certain situations, that means patients or families can get little or nothing even though they have had to deal with death or long-term disabilities. An AJC analysis of the latest insurance list posted by the medical board shows that 2,270 of 28,058 licensed physicians in Georgia — or eight percent — are uninsured. A similar analysis by the AJC four years ago found roughly the same percentage. As was the case in 2014, some of those without insurance appear to be working in fields where contact with patients is limited, such as medical education, healthcare administration or research. Others appear to be in the military or working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning they would have coverage from the government. Some apparently are retired even though their licenses are active. However, many who likely see patients in Georgia appear to be practicing in specialties that are among the most frequently sued. Excluding doctors whose profiles show them as practicing in other states, no longer seeing patients or affiliated with military or VA hospitals, the AJC found 115 OB/GYNs or obstetricians, 59 general surgeons and 49 anesthesiologists without malpractice insurance. In dozens of cases, physicians who reported having no insurance also stated on their profiles that they have privileges at hospitals in Georgia. Of the uninsured OB/GYNs and obstetricians with practices in Georgia, 11 list judgments or settlements in malpractice cases on their profiles or have been disciplined by medical boards for failing to provide proper care. Six of the uninsured surgeons have similar histories. Knowing the background Witt, who represents several women who have claims against cosmetic surgeon Dr. Windell Davis-Boutte, the so-called “dancing doctor,” said the main value of knowing whether a physician has malpractice insurance is what it says about his or her background. “If (someone in) the general public knows that their physician doesn’t have insurance, the next question would be, `Why not?’” she said. “Physicians who don’t have a bad track record can get insurance.” The fact that nearly 10 percent of the doctors currently licensed by the state are uninsured is frightening, she added. Robert White, a senior vice president with The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned malpractice insurer, said requiring physicians to disclose whether they have insurance adds an important layer of transparency for patients. “It allows patients to choose what’s important to them,” he said. “And if it’s important to them that they be treated by a doctor who has insurance, they can make that decision.” White, who oversees the company’s operations in Georgia and seven other southern states, said doctors with insurance show a “level of concern” for both themselves and their patients. But he cautioned that practicing “bare” can be misinterpreted. Some physicians believe having malpractice insurance makes them targets for lawsuits, while others simply are no longer willing to pay premiums that can reach six figures, he said. “As the price of insurance goes higher, it’s a choice that physicians have to make,” he said.
  • A North Georgia Republican is getting a head start on what could be flurry of proposals to expand access to guns. State Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, filed legislation to let anyone who is legally allowed to own a gun carry it without paying for a state-issued license. Felons and people who were involuntarily committed to a mental institution within the past five years are not allowed to own guns in Georgia. Currently, Georgia gun owners must pay about $75 — depending on the county probate court — to register with the state and pass a background check before being issued a license to carry a handgun in public. “As it stands now, law-abiding Georgians are taxed millions of dollars annually for exercising their God-given natural rights of self-defense,” Gurtler said. “Under the (U.S) Constitution and in accordance with our Founding Fathers, ‘shall not be infringed’ is a no-compromise statement.” While chances of Gurtler’s legislation, House Bill 2, making it through the Legislature are less than slim — he has a reputation in the House as often being the lone Republican dissenter on many of the party-backed initiatives, making him a bit of a pariah in his own caucus — some form of the proposal could gain traction next year. Gov.-elect Brian Kemp has said he supports permitless carry of weapons and has vowed to “support the Second Amendment.” Kemp was endorsed by gun rights groups Georgia Carry and the National Rifle Association. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.
  • Early voting for Georgia’s runoff elections is available for one week, from Monday to Friday. Election Day for the runoffs is Dec. 4. The runoffs will settle two statewide races in which neither Democratic nor Republican candidates won a majority of the vote in the Nov. 6 general election.  The contests heading for runoffs are for secretary of state and Public Service Commission. During the general election, Libertarian Party candidates won more than 2 percent of the vote in each race, denying their opponents an outright win. For secretary of state, Democrat John Barrow faces Republican Brad Raffensperger. The winner will succeed Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden, who was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to replace Gov.-elect Brian Kemp. In the contest for Public Service Commission District 3, incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton is opposed by Democrat Lindy Miller. To find early voting locations, voters can check with their county election offices, which often post early voting information online. Contact information for local election offices can be found through the secretary of state’s website at elections.sos.ga.gov/Elections/countyelectionoffices.do.  RELATED: Early voting locations in Atlanta by county: Gwinnett County, Clayton, Cobb County, DeKalb, Fulton, Other Counties Unlike the general election, there’s no requirement for early voting on a Saturday before the runoff. Absentee voting is also available for the runoffs. Voters can fill out an absentee ballot request form and return it to their county election offices. Mailed absentee ballots must be received by local election offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. All registered voters are eligible to participate in the runoff election, even if they didn’t cast ballots Nov. 6. The voter registration deadline for this year’s election was Oct. 9. Read more Find more Georgia election 2018 news on AJC’s Politically Georgia and on ajc.com.
  • 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.

News

  • The 2018 college football bowl season kicks off with the fourth annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. The game will feature champions from the Mid-Eastern Athletic and the Southwestern Athletic conference. In a rematch of the first Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, the North Carolina A&T Aggies will go head-to-head with the Alcorn State Braves.  Starting at 11 a.m., Channel 2 WSB-TV presents a live half-hour program, “The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Countdown.”  Channel 2 Anchors Fred Blankenship and Carol Sbarge host the pregame show for this event. Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein will breakdown the strategies of both teams, the players, coaches and each team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Following the countdown will be a special edition of Channel 2 Action News at 11:30 a.m. with weather, gameday traffic, and news of the day. At noon, the battle for the championship begins. In addition to the game, organizers will host the first annual “A Celebration of Service.” The service project will bring together “The Divine 9” Greek letter organizations to collect food donations that benefit Hosea Helps. Other attractions include a special fan experience and the ultimate HBCU Greek homecoming tailgate. MATCHUP Alcorn State (9-3, 6-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) vs. North Carolina A&T (9-2, 6-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference). TIME/LOCATION Saturday at Noon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Pregame coverage starts at 11 a.m., followed by the game at Noon. TOP PLAYERS Alcorn State QB Noah Johnson has thrown for 2,079 yards and 15 touchdowns while also running for 960 yards and nine touchdowns. North Carolina A&T is led by veteran QB Lamar Raynard and a running game that's averaging close to 200 yards on the ground per game. NOTABLE The Braves are back in the Celebration Bowl for the first time since the inaugural game in 2015. Alcorn State is led by coach Fred McNair, the older brother of the late Steve McNair, who was a star quarterback for Alcorn State and in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. The Aggies are back in the Celebration Bowl for the third time in four seasons. North Carolina A&T beat Grambling 21-14 last year to give the MEAC a 2-1 edge in the game over the SWAC. LAST TIME North Carolina A&T 41, Alcorn State 34. (Dec. 19, 2015) BOWL HISTORY The Braves are in the Celebration Bowl for the second time. The Aggies are in the Celebration Bowl for the third time.
  • Companies seeking tax credits from Wisconsin's troubled job-creation agency would face less scrutiny under a provision Republicans included in a package of lame-duck legislation designed to weaken newly elected Democrats. The measure awaiting GOP Gov. Scott Walker's signature would loosen the reins on an agency he created, which has marred by allegations of failing to recover loans from some companies and handing out $126 million without a formal review. Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who ousted Walker in last month's election, would be blocked from overseeing the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for nine months under another provision in the lame-duck package. It's one of several components in the legislation that would reduce the powers of Evers and the incoming Democratic attorney general. Current law requires the WEDC to annually verify payroll and employment data from tax credit recipients to make sure they're creating enough jobs to qualify. State auditors found last year that the agency isn't living up to that requirement and was accepting information recipients submitted as accurate and complete. The lame-duck legislation would erase those annual verification requirements. The agency instead would be required to have a third party verify a sampling of the information. Recipients also would have to send a signed statement to WEDC attesting to the accuracy of the information they submit. WEDC's chief executive officer, Mark Hogan, told reporters Monday that the agency can't possibly verify information about the tens of thousands of employees that work for the 300 or so credit recipients. The agency has been verifying data samples for years and the lame-duck bill simply codifies that practice into law, he said. 'You're never going to be able to independently verify over 200,000 employees,' Hogan said. 'It's a process that cannot work. The only solution was to change the statutes to codify what we're doing.' Hogan said changing the law has been his 'top priority' for three years. He tried to get lawmakers to pass the changes before the Legislature adjourned its two-year session this past spring, but legislators told him then it was too late. WEDC is a quasi-governmental agency Walker created in 2011 that hands out grants, loans and tax credits to businesses and other organizations. A May 2017 audit found the agency didn't require recipients to supply enough detailed information to determine how many jobs were created or retained as a result of the agency's award. WEDC officials played a key role in persuading Foxconn Technology Group to build a huge flat-screen plant in Mount Pleasant. The agency administers an unprecedented $3 billion state incentives package that Walker and Republican lawmakers created for the manufacturer. Walker has promised that if Foxconn doesn't create jobs it won't receive state tax credits. 'Under Republican control, the WEDC has been plagued by scandals, mismanagement and under-performance,' Senate Majority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. 'The last thing that agency needs is less accountability measures.' The WEDC provisions are tucked into a wide-ranging package of legislation that also restricts early in-person voting to the two weeks before an election, prevents Evers from withdrawing from a multistate lawsuit challenging federal health care reform laws and eliminates the state Justice Department's solicitor general office. Walker has signaled his general support. His spokesman, Tom Evenson, said Monday that the governor was still reviewing the measures. ___ Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1
  • Channel 2 Action News has learned that investigators say there are currently more than 70,000 gang members across the state of Georgia. Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne was on hand Monday for the second meeting of the Georgia Anti-Gang Network. Officials told Winne that not only are they battling against inmates who are in gangs, but also corrections officers.  “Across the state, how many investigations do you have going on involving the corruption of corrections officers by gangs?” Winne asked Georgia Department of Correction Director Clay Nix.  “Numerous,” Nix answered.  Nix said Georgia’s prison system is not only battling against inmates who are in gangs, but also corrections officers, who are recruited after hiring. TRENDING STORIES: State government will delay opening Tuesday due to weather LIVE UPDATES: Atlanta United's championship parade and rally Search for missing Colorado mother intensifies; FBI assisting with investigation “Also, they reach out to other gang members who have no criminal record and encourage them to come to work for us,” Nix said.   “That’s happened?” Winne asked Nix.  “It has. Several times in the past,” Nix said.  Nix showed Winne pictures of a haul of suspected gang-related contraband that consisted of 61 homemade weapons, cellphones, suspected cocaine, suspected meth and marijuana.  “They control the contraband trade, which is very lucrative,” Nix said. The items were seized at the Macon state prison just hours before a meeting of the Georgia Anti-gang Network at state corrections headquarters, headed by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. “Criminal street gangs represent America’s greatest public safety threat,” Cobb County District Attorney Mike Carlson said.  “And in Georgia?” Winne asked Carlson.  “Georgia as well,” Carlson said.  “And in metro Atlanta?” Winne asked.  “Absolutely,” Carlson said.  “The most frightening thing you've heard today?” Winne asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.  “The use of social media, the recruitment of young local neighborhood gangs as young as 9 and 13 years old,” Carr said.  The commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Community Supervision said there are currently more than 13,000 gang members under active supervision across the state.  “We'll never be able to have parity in numbers with the 70,000-plus gang members in Georgia. But what we are able to do is finely tune the force packages we use to go after each one of these sets,” said Southern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine.  Christine said a grand jury recently indicted dozens affiliated with the Ghostface Gangsters.  “It involves multiple jurisdictions and multiple counties,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly said.  “You've got a great group of folks that are focused on this issue, that aren't putting their heads in the sand and saying, 'We're going to protect the people of Georgia,'” Carr said.  Nix told Winne that without going into too many specifics, gang-related corruption cases pending against current or former corrections officers across the state range from charges up to and including homicide.
  • A five-game losing streak has assured the Atlanta Falcons of their first losing season since 2014, and the usually upbeat coach Dan Quinn said he's alarmed by the ugly results and looking for fixes. Quinn said all players and coaches are in the spotlight after Sunday's 34-20 loss at Green Bay locked in the losing season for the Falcons (4-9). It is a bitter reality for an Atlanta team only two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. The Falcons would have to win two of their last three just to match their last losing record, a 6-10 finish in 2014. Quinn has turned up the heat on his team as Atlanta prepares for a visit from Arizona on Sunday. 'Some of you may have questions regarding the program and staff and players,' Quinn said. 'As we're sitting here in week 15, we have four wins. So you better believe we're evaluating everything and doing anything to get it right.' Quinn complained about 'self-inflicted wounds,' including 13 penalties and two turnovers in the loss to the Packers. 'I thought our toughness was right but our focus is not,' he said. He said the errors and lack of focus are not new concerns. 'It hasn't been to the level that we needed to for a while,' he said. '... To have some of these inconsistencies show up over a period of time has definitely been something that has been at the forefront of my mind.' Quinn doesn't have an answer to why the focus has become an issue, saying, he 'can't tell you the amount of sleep' he has lost 'on that question alone.' Matt Ryan's second-quarter pass for Austin Hooper was intercepted by Bashaud Breeland and returned 22 yards for a touchdown. The Falcons also botched a shotgun snap in the red zone that was recovered by Green Bay. Quinn said those were among the mistakes 'that made me think lack of focus.' It was a mixed weekend for team owner Arthur Blank, who also owns the MLS Atlanta United. One day after watching Atlanta United win the MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Blank was in Green Bay for another Falcons loss. Blank gave Quinn a postgame hug one week after saying he still has confidence in the coach and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Quinn is 36-30 in his fourth season in Atlanta, including a 3-2 postseason mark. For the second straight week, Quinn tweaked his starting offensive line, inserting Ty Sambrailo at right tackle ahead of Ryan Schraeder. Zane Beadles made his second straight start at right guard. 'I've been waiting for the opportunity to go out and show what I can do,' Sambrailo said Monday. 'The opportunity came and I felt I did all right.' The line helped produce a much-needed boost in the running game . Atlanta ran for 107 yards, only its third 100-yard game of the season. Rookie Ito Smith had 11 carries for 60 yards as he continued to have a more prominent role. Tevin Coleman ran for 45 yards on 10 carries. There were other personnel moves. Rookie Isaiah Oliver shared time with cornerback Robert Alford. Brian Hill played at running back and fullback while fullback Ricky Ortiz was inactive. Defensive end Steven Means also returned to the playing rotation. More changes could come. 'Nobody is OK with this record,' Quinn said. NOTES: Quinn second-guessed himself for allowing Matt Bryant to attempt a 53-yard field goal into the wind in the first quarter. Bryant's kick was short. 'That would be one I'd like to have over,' Quinn said. ... Quinn said TE Austin Hooper avoided serious injury when he left the game with an apparent knee injury. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • The Latest on the effects of a wintry storm crossing the U.S. Southeast (all times local): 3:05 p.m. An overturned truck full of pigs is adding to traffic delays as western North Carolina digs out from a snow storm. The North Carolina Department of Transportation said the livestock truck overturned on Interstate 40 westbound near the Tennessee line. The westbound lanes were closed temporarily Monday so the pigs could be corralled, but at least one lane was reopened by midafternoon. Highway Patrol First Sgt. Mike Baker said that about 100 pigs were aboard the truck, and some died in the crash. Local farmers were helping to gather the rest. The Transportation Department posted a photo on Twitter of pigs wandering along a snowy shoulder next to a trooper's cruiser. Baker said it's not clear if weather played a role in the crash, and it may have had more to do with speed. He said the road was clear of snow and ice at the time. He said the driver suffered serious injuries. ___ 3:05 p.m. The North Carolina National Guard is out helping residents recover from a snowstorm, including relocating a baby from a snowed-in house. National Guard Lt. Col. Matthew DeVivo said the National Guard helped out a family Sunday after it lost power and couldn't drive due to heavy snowfall in Caldwell County. The National Guard posted a photo of a soldier carrying the baby down a snowy road swaddled in extra blankets. DeVivo said the baby is OK, and the family was taken to stay with relatives. Guard members also aided an ambulance stuck in the snow in Burke County, helping an elderly patient get to the hospital. The patient's condition Monday wasn't clear. ___ 1:30 p.m. Residents of southern West Virginia are digging out from a storm that dumped up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow. Forecasters had been uncertain about the storm's track and many residents were caught off guard by the high snow amounts. Forecasts initially had the storm avoiding most of the state and moving across the Southeast. Instead, the National Weather Service says the state became part of the storm's northern edge. More than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell across the far southern areas of the state. Schools were closed in at least 10 counties Monday. In places about an hour to the north such as Charleston and Huntington, no snow fell. ___ 12:35 p.m. Authorities in North Carolina are reporting a third snowstorm-related death after a truck driver died while working to free his rig that got stuck on an interstate. Yadkin County Emergency Services Director Keith Vestal says the driver had gotten stuck along Interstate 77 during the height of the storm Sunday and was shoveling out. Vestal said that shortly after shoveling, the man experienced chest pains and was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead. Vestal said the death appears to be due to a heart attack and he considers it a storm-related death. The state emergency operations center attributes two other deaths to the storm. One man died Sunday when a tree fell on him in Mecklenburg County, while an ailing woman died in Haywood County when her oxygen was cut off due to power outages. ___ 11:45 a.m. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says the worst of the wintery storm has passed most of the state but residents — particularly motorists — should keep watch for dangerous conditions. Cooper said at a news conference Monday that snow and ice that fell since the weekend could result in slick road conditions Tuesday morning as temperatures fall and moisture refreezes. The state emergency operations center attributes two deaths to the storm. One man died Sunday when a tree fell on him in Mecklenburg County, while an ailing woman died in Haywood County when her oxygen was cut off due to power outages. The governor says 144,000 utilities customers were still without power. ____ 7:20 a.m. A lingering storm keeps dumping immobilizing snow, sleet or freezing rain across five southern states, leaving dangerously icy roads and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. Authorities urged people to stay home on Monday in areas where driving is dangerous. Accidents on snow-covered interstates caused major delays on Sunday, hundreds of flights were canceled and drivers in North Carolina and Virginia got stuck in snow or lost control on icy patches. But the commuters' nightmare provided pre-winter thrills for kids and the young at heart, who were able to go sledding and build snowmen in places that don't often see so much of the white stuff. The National Weather Service said a 'prolonged period of snow' began late Saturday and would last until Monday in the region, with the heaviest snow in northwest North Carolina and southern Virginia. Some areas of North Carolina and Virginia saw more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow by Sunday afternoon.
  • U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 32 people at a demonstration Monday that was organized by a Quaker group on the border with Mexico, authorities said. Demonstrators were calling for an end to detaining and deporting immigrants and showing support for migrants in a caravan of Central American asylum seekers. A photographer for The Associated Press saw about a dozen people being handcuffed after they were told by agents to back away from a wall that the Border Patrol calls 'an enforcement zone.' The American Friends Service Committee, which organized the demonstration, said 30 people were stopped by agents in riot gear and taken into custody while they tried to move forward to offer a ceremonial blessing near the wall. Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco said 31 people were arrested for trespassing and one was arrested for assaulting an officer. More than 300 people, many the leaders of churches, mosques, synagogues and indigenous communities, participated in the demonstration at San Diego's Border Field State Park, which borders Tijuana, Mexico. The rally held on a beach divided by the border wall was the second confrontation for Border Patrol agents since a caravan of more than 6,000 migrants, predominantly Hondurans, reached Tijuana last month. A confrontation with rock-throwers from Mexico led to U.S. agents firing tear gas into Mexico on Nov. 25 and a five-hour closure of the nation's busiest border crossing. Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in Tijuana after undertaking a grueling journey from Central America to the U.S. border. Many face waiting weeks or months in Mexico while they apply for asylum. The U.S. is processing up to about 100 claims a day at the San Diego crossing, which is creating a backlog. The demonstration Monday was meant to launch a national week of action called 'Love Knows No Borders: A moral call for migrant justice,' which falls between Human Rights Day on Monday, and International Migrants' Day on Dec. 18, the group said. 'Showing up to welcome and bless children, mothers and fathers seeking asylum from very difficult and dehumanizing circumstances is the right and humane thing to do,' said Bishop Minerva G. Carcano, from the San Francisco Area United Methodist Church. 'How we act in these moments determines who we will become as a nation.' The group also is calling on Congress to defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.