On Wednesday, American Oversight, represented by Caplan Cobb LLP, sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other state officials for failing to respond to dozens of open records requests for election-related material.
Over the past year, American Oversight has submitted multiple records requests to Raffensperger’s office, seeking emails related to the Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force, communications with organizations that have a history of voter-suppression efforts, and records related to complications with the primary elections in Fulton and DeKalb counties. Additional requests sought the release of communications regarding voter roll maintenance, polling place accessibility, and the impact of coronavirus. The Office of the Secretary of State has provided documents in response to only three of our requests.
Although early voting only just began this week, reports are already describing hours of waiting in line and issues with poll pad check-in computers. These follow the disastrous delays that plagued the June 2020 primary election. The state also reports that 1.6 million voters have requested absentee ballots, indicating that voting by mail will be more important than ever.
“Coming on the heels of an election in 2018 when then-Secretary of State Kemp made false claims about hacking, efforts in 2017 and 2019 to purge voters from voter rolls, and problems presented by the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary Raffensperger’s failure to meet basic transparency obligations is a serious red flag that his office’s record is better hidden than disclosed,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Instead of broadcasting questionable claims of voter fraud, he should be focused on giving the public confidence the election is in good hands. Public service comes with accountability and it’s time to demand it.”
Georgia has a strong open records law. In the law’s preamble, the General Assembly declared, “open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society” and “that there is a strong presumption that public records should be made available for public inspection without delay.” Georgia’s courts have a history of upholding access to records.
“The Georgia Open Records Act is a bedrock of the state’s transparency laws, and our statewide elected officials should be leaders in complying with both the spirit and letter of the law,” said Sarah Brewerton-Palmer, associate at Caplan Cobb LLP. “It is unfortunate to instead see the secretary of state’s office engage in a systemic failure to comply with the Open Records Act, particularly in a presidential election year.”
Today’s lawsuit is part of American Oversight’s investigation into the effort to undermine the right to vote. Last month, the organization filed a lawsuit in Kentucky after officials there refused to provide records related to that state’s “Ballot Integrity Task Force.” In November 2019, American Oversight obtained documents from Carroll County, Ga., revealing that voter check-in devices used “1234” as a default password. After Politico published a story about the county’s lax security, the secretary of state’s office reported that the password had been changed. All of American Oversight’s requests and responsive records from Georgia are available here.
“There is no doubt that the law in Georgia requires that documents that are paid for and given receipt for are delivered,” said Richard Griffiths, president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “For the secretary of state’s office to delay is a clear violation of the spirit of Georgia’s open records laws, and is very disappointing to see.
“When these laws were strengthened in 2012, this is the exact behavior that the changes were intended to head off,” he added. “This puts the secretary of state in the embarrassing position of having to defend an agency that is in apparent violation of their open records obligations.”
Part of Investigation: