Karen Handel and voter suppression in Georgia’s 6th

If it wasn't for Crosscheck and Voter ID, would we be calling Jon Ossoff Congressman by now?

Image credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

It wasn’t supposed to be a difficult assignment. It was just covering the run up to an election. We weren’t supposed to be the news, we were just supposed to covering the news.

Greg Palast and I were in Georgia again. The last time was in 2014 for Al Jazeera America. We had uncovered the newest GOP vote trickery, a program of voter suppression called Crosscheck. Crosscheck was being pushed by a man I wrote about last week for NationofChange, Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach. He claimed that millions of Americans were voting twice. After weeks of submitting FOIA’s and dozens of phone calls, we had received two important Crosscheck lists. One from Virginia, and the other was from Georgia.

We proved, thanks to some statisticians, that Kobach’s Crosscheck list was a fraud. It matched similar names and accused registrants of being the same person – voting in two different states. Not only was it ridiculous in it’s stupidity, it was also racist. Thanks to the legacy of slavery, and immigration, Black, Hispanic and Asian people are more likely to have similar names… thus be “double voters.” Our statistician laughed when he saw the list. This wasn’t an example of Republican stupidity though – this was Kobach’s evil genius. A man that graduated from Oxford, Yale and Harvard doesn’t make these mistakes, it was on purpose.

So when the Georgia 6th became a race to watch we made our way back Atlanta. Not just because we thought that the election was interesting, or that it would get headlines, but one of the nation’s biggest vote suppressors was on the ballot.

Karen Handel was once the Secretary of State – the person that handles the elections in Georgia. She instituted Crosscheck. But she didn’t stop there. She also worked as a lawyer with True The Vote, a voting “integrity” group that has been pushing the idea that there is a voter fraud problem in this country. Thanks to True the Vote (a group that started with the Tea Party), the idea of illegal immigrants voting, black people voting twice and the need for Voter ID and Crosscheck has become standard Republican talking points.

I met up with the head of True the Vote, Catherine Engelbrecht, at CPAC two years ago and she claimed, “The fact is that If you want to register to vote as a non-citizen, you absolutely can, and there is no way to stop you.” Handel pushed for, not only Voter ID in Georgia, but a Kobach inspired ‘SB1070-esque’ citizenship verification for registering to vote.

That may sound like a reasonable idea – making someone prove that they’re a citizen before they vote, but there’s a problem with that. Most Americans don’t have passports, which is the easiest way to prove citizenship. It’s also difficult, and often costly to get the needed paperwork to prove citizenship – essentially a poll tax. Kat Calvin, founder of Spread the Vote told Palast and I that Voter ID and citizenship laws were:

“…Basically voter suppression. There has been a myth that has been perpetuated, that there’s some sort of in-person voter fraud going on. That people are walking into polling stations with hats and funny glasses and saying that, they’re somebody else’s name and voting. We know for a fact that this is not happening, due to a lot of research. But because of that myth, 32 states have passed some sort of ID law. Saying that you have to have something to prove your identity. That changes in every state.

“But there’s 16 states that require strict photo ID, which means that they give a certain number of IDs, that are government issued photo IDs. For instance, a drivers license, a passport, in Texas a gun license, that you have to have those IDs if you’d like to vote.

“Georgia is a strict photo ID state. They have seven different types of ID, that you need to have one of, to vote. We know because of a Secretary of State survey, in 2006 – which is the last time that they did any research on this – that 675 thousand registered voters in the state of Georgia, don’t have ID.

“We have some data scientists on our team, who crunched some numbers and a little over 60 thousand people in GA-6 don’t have ID, which GA-6 has over 700 thousand voters, so it’s really only nine or 10%. It’s not a number that’s outrageous but it does mean that there are over 60 thousand voters.”

Image credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

Let’s stop for a moment and remember why this election is even happening. Ossoff didn’t hit the 50% threshold in the special election vote in April, and that then triggered a run off vote. With 48.1 percent of the vote, he was only 3,700 votes away from a swearing in ceremony. So, one must ask, “If it wasn’t for Crosscheck and Voter ID, would we be calling Jon Ossoff Congressman by now?”

Dee Hunter of Washington DC based Civil Rights Center thinks so:

“What I’m saying is that the cumulative effect of the voter ID law, Crosscheck, reducing the places to vote, reducing the days to vote, failure to process voter registration applications in a timely manner. Those things combined together far exceed the 3,700 vote margin that he failed to get to win the election outright.”

Image credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

Making the news

We tried to ask candidate Karen Handel this question, but our repeated calls, e-mails, and even Facebook messages, were either ignored or left unanswered.

So we decided that we needed to figure out where the candidate was going to be and get the interview no matter what. With no public scheduled events on her website or Facebook page, or on any of the local Republican Party websites, that was difficult. Handel was running a very odd campaign.

It was almost as if she didn’t want to be confronted by reporters – or voters that she might disagree with. We were in Roswell, Georgia, the weekend before early voting started, camped out in our hotel room, and we discovered that just down the street there would be the states largest Memorial Day celebration. Enormous flags, BBQ, and patriotic singing? That’s like Republican Spanish fly. There was no way that she wouldn’t be there.

Thirty minutes later, at the public park that they were holding the celebration, we saw a gaggle of white polo shirts and people taking selfies. It was Handel. She was shaking hands, her polo shirts are wearing Karen Handel stickers and she’s campaigning. If there were a baby there – I’m sure she’d have been kissing it. It was awkward.

After glad-handing her way towards the local TV stations cameras, we tried get her attention. The next scene can only be described by video.

We ended on the local news, getting called ‘aggressive.’ We don’t disagree. Our line of questioning was aggressive by local TV news standards, which, as you can see in the above video, is more puff piece than hard hitting. But we still want the questions answered.

As I write this, Karen Handel is two points down in the polls and record numbers of people have voted early. Those are the people who were able to vote. The question is, will those votes be counted?  Even with polling leaning in Ossoff’s favor, will he be able to overcome the steal?

Image credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

It’s not my concern here if the Democrat or the Republican wins – it’s that American’s are allowed to vote and their votes are counted. I’m not sure that can happen in a Georgia run by the current leadership.

Look at the demographics, Georgia, and Ask yourself, why is Georgia red? But that’s a question for another time. 

If you’re discouraged – watch this video with two awesome first generation American kids that I met at an early voting event for Jon Ossoff.


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.