On Oct. 14, American Oversight sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other state officials for records related to election operations, including communications with national Republican groups and records concerning Georgia’s Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force.
American Oversight’s State Accountability Project is pushing for public records transparency in Georgia, including with regard to ballot access and election administration. The state has a strong transparency law in the Georgia Open Records Act, which declares in its preamble that “open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society” and “there is a strong presumption that public records should be made available for public inspection without delay.”
But even the best laws are only effective with enforcement — and American Oversight had to fight to get Georgia to enforce its own statute. On Oct. 14, 2020, we sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, represented by Caplan Cobb LLC, after his office failed to produce records in response to 58 of the 61 records requests we had submitted to his office over the previous 19 months.
Raffensperger’s office turned over thousands of pages of records on Oct. 23, just days before a Georgia judge had scheduled a hearing in our lawsuit. The trove of documents showed that a newly created “Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force” had not found any widespread voter fraud to investigate, and included previously unreported communications with political parties and proponents of voting restrictions.
Although Raffensperger’s office initially stonewalled document requests from American Oversight and other many other public interest groups, email correspondence released in the cache showed the office had been far quicker to respond to a records request from the Republican National Committee. The messages revealed that Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs worked to rapidly fulfill RNC requests for records about absentee ballots and polling location information.
The speed with which the Raffensperger’s office turned over documents after we sued suggested that the agency could always comply with the law, yet was choosing how and when to do its job. Fuchs later thanked American Oversight for suing over our many unfulfilled records requests, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “If we made an error, we are happy to correct it and do so quickly.”
But it shouldn’t take either the threat or the actual filing of litigation to force Georgia’s government to enforce its own laws — and American Oversight will continue our efforts to hold Georgia’s government accountable to the public it serves.