With panel, Georgia takes big step toward takeover of Fulton elections

A state monitor, also appointed by the State Election Board, last fall found no evidence of dishonesty or fraud in the county’s election management, but Fulton has a history of problems at the polls.

Some of those that occurred in 2020 included:

Sara Tindall Ghazal, the Democrat on the State Election Board, said the review panel should resist “tremendous political pressure on both sides to come to preordained conclusions.”

But she also cited Fulton’s troubled past.

“The fact remains that Fulton County voters have reported numerous problems for far longer than November 2020, particularly surrounding registration and absentee ballots,” Ghazal said.

State Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville, called for the review in late July, along with other GOP legislators from across the state and Fulton.

“Maintaining integrity in our elections is of the utmost importance to me and my colleagues in the state Senate. Unfortunately, Fulton County’s apparent disregard for election procedures and state law have called that integrity into doubt,” the senators wrote.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said the scrutiny was driven by the “big lie” that the election results were fraudulent.

“This is the result of a cynical ploy to undermine faith in our elections process and democracy itself — it is shameful partisan politics at its worst,” Pitts said.

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More than 100,000 Georgians are no longer eligible to display the state’s voting stickers because their inactivity led to the cancellation of the registrations.

Credit: Cherokee County

Credit: Cherokee County

Georgia last month completed its latest round of cancellations of inactive voter registrations. The tally: 101,217.

That might seem like a lot. It would be like canceling nearly all the residents of Sandy Springs.

But it’s far short of the 534,000-plus that were canceled in 2017, the largest removal of registrations in U.S. history. It’s less than half of the 287,000 eliminated from the state’s voter rolls two years ago.

State law requires systemic cancellations every other year to remove ineligible or infrequent voters from the state’s voter rolls.

There were 571 voters who avoided cancellation this summer by either responding within a 40-day period to notifications or automatically re-registering to vote in June and July.

This year’s effort was smaller than in previous years in part because just 271 registrations were canceled under Georgia’s “use it or lose it” law, which allows election officials to remove people who didn’t participate in elections for several years or respond to mailed notification letters.

Voters are declared “inactive” after five years of failing to participate in elections, contact election officials, respond to election officials’ mail or update their registrations. Then their registrations are voided if they miss the next two general elections.

But voters weren’t changed to “inactive” status in 2017 because of a lawsuit over registration cancellations at the time, giving them two more years before they can be removed.

That means 2023 could see a much larger round of cancellations. About 233,000 voters were changed to “inactive” status in 2019 and will be eligible for cancellation if they don’t participate in elections.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama, unveiled the latest version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama, unveiled the latest version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Congressional Democrats launched a new push seeking passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who died last year.

The bill seeks a reinstatement of federal review of changes to election laws in states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.

Such a review, known as preclearance, was a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in a 2013 ruling.

The U.S. House plans to vote soon on the bill. It will likely face a tougher fight in the U.S. Senate, where a Republican filibuster could block it.

The Voting Rights Act originally won passage following a key moment in the civil rights movement when Lewis and other activists were beaten after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during a voting rights march.

The new bill, also known as H.R. 4, creates a new formula to determine which jurisdictions would have to have a federal court or agency approve changes to their election and voting procedures.

Under the new formula, states or jurisdictions with multiple voting rights violations over the past 25 years — or since 1996 — would be subject to preclearance. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, pointed out that 18 states, including Georgia, recently passed new restrictive voting laws.

Sewell has introduced similar proposals over the past several years, and the House passed a version during the last session of Congress with all but one Republican opposed. But it never got a vote in the Senate, which Republicans controlled at the time.

Federal voting legislation is a priority for Democrats, who are concerned that Republican-led states will use the redistricting process this year to keep the GOP in power for years by diluting the voting strength of people of color and other marginalized groups.

Republicans say federal voting legislation is unnecessary, infringes on states’ ability to establish their own election and voting rules, and amounts to a Democratic power grab.

More than 1.6 million Georgians will see an increase in their benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, on Oct. 1. File photo.
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More than 1.6 million Georgians will see an increase in their benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, on Oct. 1. File photo.

The federal government’s decision to permanently boost food stamp benefits by about 25% means roughly 1.6 million Georgians are in for an increase starting Oct. 1.

The average four-person household in Georgia will see its benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly known as food stamps — rise from a maximum of $680 per month to $835 starting Oct. 1, according to the state’s Division of Family and Children Services.

Jon Anderson, the head of DFCS’ Office of Family Independence, said the increases means “eligible families may qualify to receive SNAP befits at a higher maximum allotment than before COVID-19 began.”

The pandemic caused the need for food assistance to surge.

Demand peaked in September, with 912,000 households receiving benefits.

As of June, the most recent data available, more than 732,000 households received benefits, with an average value of $339 per month. That’s well above the 627,000 households that received benefits in February 2020, before the pandemic shut down the economy.

Federal and state governments increased access to food stamps during the pandemic by waiving work requirements, giving every household the maximum allowed under federal guidelines and increasing the payments by 15%. That temporary 15% boost is set to end next month, just as the permanent 25% increase goes into effect.

Gary Uitvlugt, an Atlanta retiree who receives food stamps, said he was excited when he first learned about the increase. But then he did the math.

Uitvlugt, 70, said DFCS reduced his benefits to $16 a month.

“Twenty-five percent of $16 is $4. So I’ll be getting $20,” said Uitvlugt, who lives off of his Social Security benefits. “You can’t eat on $20 a month.”

Gov. Brian Kemp appeared receptive to taking in refugees from Afghanistan after the fall of their country to the Taliban. He called it “vitally important to keep those who partnered with American armed forces over the last 20 years safe from harm.” (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
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Gov. Brian Kemp appeared receptive to taking in refugees from Afghanistan after the fall of their country to the Taliban. He called it “vitally important to keep those who partnered with American armed forces over the last 20 years safe from harm.” (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Gov. Brian Kemp appeared open to taking in Afghan refugees who assisted the U.S. before the Taliban took over their nation.

“(I)t is vitally important to keep those who partnered with American armed forces over the last 20 years safe from harm,” Kemp said in a statement.

Kemp joins a growing number of Republican and Democratic governors who are receptive to taking in refugees from Afghanistan.

How many come is unclear.

The International Rescue Committee reports that more than 300,000 Afghan civilians have been linked to the American mission over the past two decades, though a far smaller number will qualify for protection in the U.S. A backlog has snagged thousands seeking Special Immigrant Visas reserved for Afghans who helped the U.S. military or government during the war.

Federal records show 38 people with Special Immigrant Visas have been settled in Georgia since November.

Kemp’s aides stress that the resettlement process is likely to take months, even years, and that his administration will insist on a thorough vetting required under federal law.

State officials are relatively powerless to stop federal resettlement of refugees, though they can seek to complicate the process.

Georgia wasn’t so open to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in 2015. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal initially ordered state employees not to process the refugees’ food stamp benefits before reversing course.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee recently joined other moderate Democrats in the U.S. House in calling for an immediate vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that recently cleared the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trying to maintain a narrow majority, plans to delay a final vote on the infrastructure bill until a $3.5 trillion social services measure wins the Senate's approval. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee recently joined other moderate Democrats in the U.S. House in calling for an immediate vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that recently cleared the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trying to maintain a narrow majority, plans to delay a final vote on the infrastructure bill until a $3.5 trillion social services measure wins the Senate’s approval. (Alyssa Pointer / [email protected])

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / [email protected]

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / [email protected]

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux caught the attention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she joined eight other moderate Democrats in threatening to derail a $3.5 trillion budget resolution promising a range of social service programs.

But U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, was also watching.

The moderates want Pelosi to abandon her plan linking votes on both the social services legislation — which proposes programs such as universal pre-kindergarten and tuition-free community college — and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that won bipartisan support in the Senate. Pelosi wants to stall the House infrastructure vote until the social services package wins Senate approval.

Bourdeaux & Co. want a House vote now on infrastructure or they say they won’t back the social services measure.

It’s a dicey situation for Pelosi, who commands a narrow majority of liberals most concerned about the social services measure and moderates focused on the infrastructure package. Each side threatens passage of the other’s priority.

Ferguson’s priority is scrapping both, at least at the current price tag of $4.7 trillion. He speaks of them as if they were a single piece of legislation, calling the measures “one of the most reckless spending bills in the history of our country.”

He praised Bourdeaux and her partners during a recent town hall. But he’s not exactly optimistic they’ll hold their ground.

“Every time we need them to stand up,” Ferguson said, “they fold like a cheap lawn chair.”

Bourdeaux is in a situation not unlike Pelosi’s: She has to appeal to liberals and moderates.

Her Gwinnett County-based 7th Congressional District is the swingiest of swing districts in Georgia. In 2020, she won with 51.39% of the vote. To win in 2022, she really needs to keep everybody happy. That still might not be enough after Republicans redraw the 7th this fall during redistricting.

In 2020, Georgia had 19,265 more births than deaths, the narrowest margin the Department of Public Health has seen in the 25 years that it has examined those vital statistics at the county level. In 118 of Georgia's 159 counties, deaths outnumbered births. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption

In 2020, Georgia had 19,265 more births than deaths, the narrowest margin the Department of Public Health has seen in the 25 years that it has examined those vital statistics at the county level. In 118 of Georgia’s 159 counties, deaths outnumbered births. (Hyosub Shin / [email protected])

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Charlie Hayslett has made it his mission at Trouble in God’s County to uncover data that demonstrates differences between metro Atlanta and much of the rest of the state.

Sometimes that difference is like birth versus death.

While plowing through the latest census data, he came up with this discovery: 118 of Georgia’s 159 counties saw more people die than babies born in 2020.

That’s 40 more than in 2019.

“The increase was generally expected,” Hayslett wrote. “(The state Department of Public Health) reported in June that 2020 births were down 3.1 percent from 2019, and the Covid-19 death toll seemed certain to drive a big increase in the number of counties where burials outnumbered births.”

Overall, Georgia still had 19,265 more births than deaths, but it was the narrowest margin the DPH has seen in the 25 years that it has examined those vital statistics at the county level. The margin exceeded 40,000 in each of the previous two years.

Twelve of the 29 counties in the census’ Atlanta metropolitan service area reported more deaths than births: Butts, Fayette, Haralson, Heard, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Morgan, Pickens, Pike, Spalding and Walton.

— Republican state Sen. Tyler Harper of Ocilla has named a team of senior advisers to his campaign for agriculture commissioner. They are Billy Kirkland, a former deputy to Vice President Mike Pence; Stephen Lawson, a veteran of ex-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign; Denise Deal, a prolific fundraiser; and Matt Littlefield, who recently worked for Doug Collins’ U.S. Senate bid. Heading Harper’s campaign is Jessica Perdue, the daughter-in-law of former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

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