Georgia Voting Official Makes Excuses For Residents Who Illegally Voted in 2020

Georgia Voting Official Makes Excuses For Residents Who Illegally Voted in 2020

One must wonder how seriously the Georgia secretary of state takes its fraud investigation if its staffer frames those who violate state law as merely ‘trying to exercise their right to vote.’
Margot Cleveland
By

As the Georgia secretary of state’s office continues to investigate evidence that indicates more than 10,300 Georgians may have illegally voted in the November 2020 election, on Friday the office’s chief operating officer reportedly defended voters for violating state election law.

“The reality is these are normal, everyday Georgians who are just trying to exercise their right to vote in a very weird year,” Chief Operating Officer Gabriel Sterling reportedly told Atlanta’s WSB-TV, when confronted with an admission from one voter that he had moved more than 30 days before the general election but cast his vote in the county in which he no longer lived.

As The Federalist reported last week, before Georgia certified its election results, President Trump challenged the state’s tally that showed Joe Biden winning the general election by 11,779 votes out of nearly five million votes cast. One of the more than 30 arguments Trump presented in his lawsuit challenging the election charged that nearly 40,000 Georgians illegally voted in a county in which they did not reside.

Trump’s challenge relied on Section 21-2-218 of the state’s election code, which unequivocally provides that residents must vote in the county in which they reside unless they had changed their residence within 30 days of the election. So clear is Georgia’s in-county voting mandate that on Friday “FactCheck” confirmed the accuracy of this reading of the law by quoting the Georgia secretary of state’s voter registration webpage:

Enough Illegal Votes to Exceed Margin of Victory

At the time of Trump’s election challenge, in alleging widespread violations of Section 21-2-218, the president relied on information from the Secretary of State’s Office and the U.S. Postal Service National Change of Address (NCOA) database, the latter of which identified more than 100,000 individuals who had indicated a move to a new county before October 1, 2020.

Mark Davis, an expert on residency issues and voter data analytics, compared the NCOA data to official data from the Secretary of State’s Office and determined that approximately 35,000 of those Georgians cast a ballot in the county from which they had moved more than 30 days before the election. While a percentage of those voters may have moved only temporarily, perhaps because they were students or in the military—circumstances that do not affect a voter’s residency—with less than 12,000 votes separating Biden and Trump, this bucket of potentially illegal votes could have resulted in a state court tossing the election results.

Nonetheless, because Georgia courts delayed Trump’s election-challenge case, setting a trial on the matter only after Congress’ certification of Biden as the victor, evidence of illegal voting was never heard.

Since then, however, as The Federalist first reported a little more than a week ago, growing evidence indicates enough illegal out-of-county votes will eventually be revealed to exceed Biden’s margin of victory. Specifically, Davis re-ran the data in May and found that more than 10,300 of the approximately 35,000 individuals who moved to a new county have since confirmed their move was permanent by updating their voter registration to the same address they had previously provided the USPS.

What the Voters Said

The Secretary of State’s Office told The Federalist in a nearly hour-long interview last week that its investigation into these voters is ongoing, but the lead investigator Frances Watson refused to provide any specifics concerning the investigatory steps being taken.

However, last week, after obtaining a list of the 10,000-plus voters who had updated their registrations since the general election, pursuant to a Georgia open records request, WSB TV investigative reporter Justin Gray launched his own probe, knocking on doors to ask voters about their moves.

In a Friday article, Gray reported on his conversations with two voters. According to Gray, one voter, identified as Jon Stout, “admits he did vote in the wrong county after moving just a few houses down the street but crossing the DeKalb County line.” Stout claimed he did so because he was not “able to update his driver’s license during the pandemic.” Stout, however, also did not update his voter registration, which he could have done online with the Secretary of State’s Office.

A second voter, identified as Mark Buerkle, told Gray that “he did move from Gwinnett County to Fulton but turned in his Fulton ballot at a Fulton dropbox.” “The fact is I live here, I voted here, I voted in this county. It should be legit and there shouldn’t be any questions,” Buerkle told WSB TV.

When asked about this reporting, Davis stressed that he doesn’t like talking about specific voters, especially because it is possible the voter may not have even realized he was actually casting a Gwinnett County ballot. “It is up to our elections officials and law enforcement to determine who may or may not have violated the law,” Davis told me, “which is why they are conducting an investigation, and why I gave them the data from my analysis.”

“Equally as important,” though, Davis added, “I also want our elected officials to understand these are systemic irregularities that must be addressed.”

‘The Story the Data Is Telling Me’

“With respect to Mr. Buerkle, I am sorry Channel 2 put him on the spot the way they did,” Davis told me. “I have deliberately refrained from publishing the data from my analysis,” Davis noted, adding that “I had an understanding with the Secretary of State’s Office that it would not be subject to an open records request until the conclusion of their investigation, yet here we are.” (Davis also required me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before providing access to the data for review.)

“That said, when it comes to his residency in particular, I only know the story the data is telling me,” Davis stated, and “the November 2020, NCOA data shows an individual change of address was filed last year, with a move effective date in August of 2020, which indicated a move from an address in Gwinnett County to a new address in Fulton County.”

Further, “the absentee voter data shows this individual was still registered in Gwinnett County when he appears to have requested an absentee ballot be mailed to his Fulton County address in September of 2020.” Also, while this voter told WSB-TV he had placed that ballot in a Fulton County drop box two blocks from his house, “both the absentee data and the vote history data indicate the vote was cast in Gwinnett County,” Davis explained, adding that, if handled properly, Fulton County election officials would transfer the ballot to Gwinnett County.

None of this is to say Buerkle or Stout committed voter fraud. Stout apparently thought nothing of voting in a county in which he no longer lived, and Buerkle seems to not even realize that, according to the secretary of state records, he cast a Gwinnett County absentee ballot.

Laws Don’t Matter If They Aren’t Enforced

The public might also pooh-pooh these admissions as insignificant, but as Davis told me, state election law requires voters to cast a ballot in their county of residence for a reason: Each county has unique issues facing residents, whether it be taxes or which local or state officials will represent them. For instance, “When Mr. Buerkle lived in Gwinnett County, he would have voted in the Seventh Congressional District, but his new residence in Fulton County is in the Fifth Congressional District,” Davis told me.

But even if the public shrugs at the significance of these revelations, Georgia’s Secretary of State’s Office, in the person of its chief operating officer, shouldn’t spin the casting of illegal votes as people “just trying to exercise their right to vote.” To the contrary, every illegal vote cast disenfranchised a legal voter who followed the law, including those who moved and undertook “the normal burden” of voting by lawfully updating their voting registration.

Then there were the Georgia voters who moved and, like the voters featured in WSB TV’s article, failed to update their voter registration—as legally required—in time to cast a ballot in the general election. The overwhelming majority of those 100,000-plus citizens followed the law and did not vote in a county in which they no longer lived.

So, what we have then, is the Secretary of State’s Office defending the counting of the ballots of those who broke the law and even excusing those violations, while those who followed the law remained unable to cast ballots at all. One must wonder too how seriously the Secretary of State’s Office takes the investigation into the 10,000-plus residents if its COO frames those who violate Section 21-2-218 as merely “trying to exercise their right to vote.”

Lack of Enforcement Undermines Public Trust

After WSB TV broke the story late last week, I sought comment from Sterling and asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s communications manager for voter education, Walter Jones, for a statement. Did Raffensperger agree with Sterling’s assessment? And if not, would the secretary issue a comment condemning violations of election law and Sterling’s disregard for election integrity? Both media requests were ignored.

This approach is disconcerting. The public needs to have confidence that the Secretary of State’s Office will undertake a full and transparent investigation of election irregularities, and Sterling’s statements to the press last week ferment distrust.

Sterling’s recent comments prove even more troubling when considered in tandem with statements a Georgia secretary of state spokesperson made to “FactCheck” late last week concerning the newly revealed evidence of the 10,300-plus likely illegal votes cast in the November 2020 election. Jones reportedly told FactCheck that “establishing a person’s residency is complicated and involves a number of variables, including where a person claims a homestead exemption, and even a person’s ‘intent.’”

That is all true, but it ignores the reality that the more than 10,300 voters specifically at issue all made clear their intent to change residencies when they updated their voter registration records—albeit too late to legally vote in the November 2020 election in their new counties. Further, while there may be a few people on the fringes, it is extremely likely that nearly all of the voters who informed the secretary of state that they had permanently moved to a new county did so on or about the date they told the USPS they were moving—which was more than 30 days before the November 2020 election.

Even More Disconcerting Details

Ironically, Jones also stressed to FactCheck that 86 percent of the voters Davis identified in person “showed up in the polling location where they were registered,” implying some connection to their old residence existed. But as WSB-TV reported, for one voter that meant just walking a few blocks to his old precinct in another county. Jones’s statement would also suggest that many of the voters on the list deliberately traveled a considerable distance to their old county of residence to vote.

Considered in context with Sterling’s comments, however, the worst spin came when Jones stressed to FactCheck that “federal law requires ‘individualized inquiry’ into each voter’s situation,” and that “calling these voter’s ‘illegal voters’ without doing that individualized inquiry is a disservice.”

But then when confronted by an Atlanta investigative reporter who undertook that “individualized inquiry”—and went two-for-two with voters who admitted they had moved more than 30 days before the election—the secretary of state’s COO derided the discovery. That was the real disservice!

Further, while Sterling was spinning this confirmation of illegal votes as just “normal, everyday Georgians who are just trying to exercise their right to vote,” the secretary of state’s press person pushed the conflicting talking point that in-person voters “signed an oath that they resided where they are registered,” and absentee voters signed an application “saying that they still resided where they were registered.”

So which is it, Raffensperger? Are the 10,300-plus—and potentially up to 35,000—voters who may have cast ballots illegally in a county in which they didn’t live “just trying to exercise their right to vote”? Or did many of them deceive election workers by falsely signing an oath affirming they still reside in their old county?

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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