Caught between Kemp and Coalition

Staff Written News

By Tia Ivey

managing editor 

Morgan County is at the center of a heated legal battle between Governor Brian Kemp and the Coalition for Good Governance, revolving around the issue of election security in the State of Georgia and “missing votes” in the Georgia Lieutenant Governor race during the November 2018 Midterm election. 

The Coalition for Good Governance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on election transparency and verifiability, notified the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration (BOER) of a soon-to-be-served subpoena requesting access to electronic data and records, forensic examination of voting machines, and databases. At the end of April, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger filed a motion to stop that subpoena and Morgan County Attorney Christian Henry filed an objection to that subpoena. 

The controversy began over an investigation conducted by the Coalition for Good Governance, which found approximately 127,000 fewer votes were recorded in the 2018 Lt. Governor’s contest than experts estimated should have been cast. Morgan County was “missing” 295 votes. “Statistical analyses and experts’ reports expose a dramatically increased number of missing votes (undervotes or drop-off in votes compared to the top-of-the-ballot contest) for the Lt. Governor’s contest in primarily African American neighborhood precincts,” claimed the report. The same racially disparate findings were true of Morgan County as well, with missing votes coming from a predominantly African-American district. 

The coalition, which advocates for a paper ballot system to replace Georgia’s current electronic voting machine system, is seeking the court to intervene to get to the bottom of the missing votes. 

“It is puzzling and concerning that the Secretary of State’s office is attempting to obstruct citizens from finding out what happened to the 127,000+ potentially missing votes in the Lieutenant Governor’s race, particularly after they admitted in court testimony that they did not undertake an investigation to determine whether the voting system had been misprogrammed or malfunctioned in a way to cause this unprecedented undervote,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance.  “That is all the more reason that Secretary Raffensperger should not stand in the way of citizens trying to find out how the highly questionable result was tolerated.”

Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats, is advocating to the Morgan County BOER and state officials, to cooperate with an investigation. 

“This is a 1 in 10,000 anomaly,” said Dufort of the missing votes.  “The Secretary of State has refused to investigate, or allow others to investigate. The next step is a forensic examination of the GEMS database, the equipment, and other records. Morgan County should stand by its voters, and investigate.  They can do that by cooperating with the Coalition for Good Governance, or they can bring in an independent expert to look.”

But state officials and Morgan County officials contend that the Coalition for Good Governance;s requests are unreasonable, irrelevant or impermissible under the law in their filings to The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. 

“The subpoena requests documents that are privileged and confidential under Georgia law and not subject to production, such as documents seeking DRE machine results, GEMS database information, and passwords and user-names to access electronic voting information,” wrote Henry in his objection filing. “Responding to some of the requests would be very burdensome and time-consuming, requiring considerable time and effort on the part of Morgan County’s Election Supervisor, drawing her away from her regular duties. Some of the requests seek documents that are not currently in existence, but would require the Supervisor of Elections of Morgan County to create the documents. Some of the requests seek documents that have been previously produced to the Coalition for Good Governance and its representatives under the Georgia Open Records Act, and the requests in the Subpoena are duplicative. Some of the requests seek documents and/or information that would disclose personal information regarding individual voters that is prohibited from disclosure. For these reasons, Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration objects to this Plaintiff’s Subpoena.”

“The subpoena is premature under the Court’s Order staying discovery, Eleventh Circuit precedent, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rules of this Court. Even if the subpoena is not premature, it was improperly served and noticed, seeks irrelevant information, and seeks information protected by state law,” wrote Raffensperger in his quash motion to the court. 

The coalition disputes the objection filed. 

“It is troubling to see the Secretary of State’s office fighting  the disclosure of election data, (“GEMS database”), which merely is a worksheet of data from the election, –not proprietary source code or private voter information.  It is simply a Microsoft Access database that defines how the ballots are laid out and how the votes are tabulated. It includes an electronic record of every vote, and every ballot. Why shouldn’t that be open to the public as it is in some other jurisdiction?”

Dufort, and other local activists, have implored the Morgan County Board of Election representatives to comply with the Coalition for Good Governance’s requests. 

“I would think the MOCO BOER would be furious at the Secretary of State for obstructing the investigation,” said Dufort.  “They work hard to deliver fair and efficient elections locally, and it’s likely the cause of the anomaly is nothing they could have prevented, under current procedures.”

Officials await a ruling from Judge Amy Totenberg to decide if the coalition’s subpoena should move forward. Henry noted that Morgan County would comply with the subpoena if the Judge Totenberg upholds its validity.

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