Georgia’s Secretary of State Releases Records in Response to American Oversight’s Lawsuit

On Friday, in response to an American Oversight lawsuit, the office of Georgia’s secretary of state finally released thousands of pages of records related to the state’s voter fraud task force, election preparedness, and communications with political campaigns and proponents of voting restrictions.

Represented by Caplan Cobb LLC, American Oversight filed suit seeking immediate injunctive relief to require Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office to provide records the office had been withholding for months. Georgia has a strong open records law, and the state’s courts have a history of upholding access to public records. With the Georgia court having scheduled a hearing on our lawsuit for this Wednesday, Oct. 28, recognizing the state was on shaky legal ground, the attorney general suddenly appeared eager to resolve our outstanding requests.

Notably, while Raffensperger’s office had stonewalled our document requests — as well as those of many other public interest groups — the records finally released on Friday reveal his office was far more accommodating to a records request from the Republican National Committee. Email communications between Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs and an RNC staffer show Fuchs quickly fulfilling the RNC’s requests for records about absentee ballots and polling location information.

Although we had requested records for Raffensperger’s much ballyhooed “voter fraud” task force, known as the Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force, apparently there are almost none containing substantive information, indicating the task force was created for show rather than any legitimate purpose. 

This conclusion is reinforced by documents American Oversight obtained from separate records requests filed with Glynn and Hall counties, which we reported on here. Those records include emails showing the task force has only met once in the half-year since it was created, as well as a definitive statement from a local elections official and task force member that Georgia has not experienced any sort of widespread absentee ballot fraud. In one email obtained from Hall County, the general counsel in Raffensperger’s office told members of the task force that “systematic checks stop double voting from happening, and those checks appear to be largely working as intended.”

One of the records requests we sued over related to Gov. Brian Kemp’s false allegation that the Democratic Party had attempted to hack the state’s voter registration system prior to the 2018 midterm elections, when he was serving as secretary of state and running for the governorship. While Kemp’s claims were debunked months ago, the records we obtained* show Candice Broce, then a staff attorney for the secretary of state and now in the governor’s office, seemingly acknowledging to a reporter in early November 2018 that those claims appeared to be unfounded.

The secretary of state’s office also released a June 12 email from State Elections Director Chris Harvey stating he had received “nothing but positive comments” about both absentee ballot drop boxes and early ballot scanning. A number of other emails reference a July 9 call between officials in the secretary of state’s office and the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative group that has used dubious information to push local and state officials to conduct voter roll purges.

The complete set of records are available at the links below. They include spreadsheets showing voter registration information as well as Covid-19 “impact surveys” from most Georgia counties, highlighting the operational challenges faced by election officials.

Given how unremarkable most of the released records are, it’s hard to fathom why the secretary of state’s office refused to meet its responsibilities under Georgia’s Open Records Act.  American Oversight worked diligently for months to obtain the records, and even our counsel’s warning to the attorney general’s office that we were preparing to sue failed to shake the records loose. It seems Raffensperger was withholding records just because he thought he could. Georgia law requires officials to provide records to anyone who asks, but unfortunately, it appears only lawyers filing lawsuits will convince Raffensperger to comply.

GA-SOS-20-0906: Records received in response to request regarding Raffensperger’s decision to postpone the April 9, 2020, primary election.

GA-SOS-20-1497: Emails between the secretary of state’s office and the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign.

GA-SOS-20-1418: “COVID-19 Impact Surveys” from various Georgia counties reflecting the pandemic’s impact on election administration.

GA-SOS-20-1668: Emails between the secretary of state’s office and external organizations with a purported interest in election administration and integrity.

GA-SOS-20-0047: Spreadsheets reflecting the number of voter registration applications submitted for certain time periods in 2019.

GA-SOS-20-0554: Emails between the Georgia secretary of state’s office and the Alabama and Indiana secretaries of state.

GA-SOS-19-1021: Emails sent by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the week prior to the 2018 midterm elections.

GA-SOS-20-1779: An agenda for a May 21, 2020, meeting of Georgia’s Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force.

GA-SOS-20-1140: Communications regarding the creation of Georgia’s Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force.

*There were some significant technical issues with the records we obtained in response to our request pertaining to Kemp’s accusation that the Democratic Party had attempted to hack the state’s voter registration system in 2018. We are asking the secretary of state’s office to provide uncorrupted versions of those documents, and will update this list as soon as we receive them.