ATLANTA — Election officials in Georgia say they have opened an investigation into groups allegedly trying to illegally register people to vote ahead of the upcoming Senate runoff elections in January.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a press conference Monday that his office continues to investigate any credible claims of illegal voting and violations of state election law. His office currently has more than 250 open cases from this year, he said.
He singled out groups that he said are working to register people in other states to vote in a high-profile runoff election for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats.
"Voting in Georgia when you are not a resident of Georgia is a felony,” Raffensperger said Monday. “And encouraging college kids to commit felonies with no regards for what it might mean for them is despicable."
“These third-party groups have a responsibility to not encourage illegal voting. If they do so, they will be held responsible,” Raffensperger added.
Raffensperger said his investigators are looking into specific allegations of improper actions by four groups.
America Votes has sent absentee ballot applications to people at addresses where they haven’t lived in more than 25 years, while Vote Forward tried to register a dead Alabama woman to vote in Georgia and the New Georgia Project sent voter registration applications to New York City, he said.
A spokesperson for America Votes said in an email to The Associated Press that the group is working to make sure every voice is heard.
“America Votes has mailed registered voters in Georgia applications to safely and securely vote by mail in the January runoffs. These mailings were sent to the list of registered voters maintained by the Secretary of State,” Sahil Mehrotra wrote.
Vote Forward and the New Georgia Project didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment Monday.
Raffensperger also said a group called Operation New Voter Registration Georgia is telling college students they can change their registration to vote in Georgia for the runoff and then change it back to another state after the election. That group doesn’t seem to have an online presence, and an email sent to an address on a flier circulating on Twitter bounced back, saying the account doesn’t exist.
The secretary of state’s office is also looking into a sworn statement from a Republican official in Gwinnett County, in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs, that says there were more absentee ballots than absentee ballot envelopes, Raffensperger said.
“This is the kind of specific charge that our office can investigate and ascertain the truth,” he said.
Raffensperger, himself a Republican, refuted the statements made by some — including President Trump — about the efficacy of his state’s voting security. The president, as well as many of his GOP supporters, have repeatedly claimed that there is widespread voter fraud across the state, with little evidence to support their claims.
“There are those who are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation, and frankly, they are misleading the president as well, apparently,” Raffensperger said, adding: “The great thing about our paper ballot system, it is auditable, it is re-countable, and it can provide the voters the confident the outcomes are correct."
"Upholding the law matters. Truth matters and your vote matters,” Raffensperger continued. “Anyone telling you to boycott an election is not on your side.”
Soon after the press conference, Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuiliani for the fifth time filed a motion for an immediate audit of the state’s ballots, saying: “There is no way of knowing which ballots are honest & which ballots are fraudulent.”
The result of Georgia’s statewide audit of its paper ballots from the presidential election, which was completed on Nov. 19, upheld the results of the state’s election in favor of Joe Biden.
“Georgia’s historic first statewide audit reaffirmed that the state’s new secure paper ballot voting system accurately counted and reported results,” Raffensperger said in a statement at the time. “This is a credit to the hard work of our county and local elections officials who moved quickly to undertake and complete such a momentous task in a short period of time.”
Still, the president and his allies have not given up questioning the state’s election results, with Trump going so far as to slam the state’s governor during an appearance on Fox News.
President Trump said Sunday he was “ashamed” for endorsing Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, after he lost in the state to Democrat Joe Biden. Trump added that Kemp has “done absolutely nothing” to question the state’s results.
Trump backed Kemp’s campaign in 2018, boasting that his “full endorsement” helped him edge rising Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Democrats hope for two other upset victories in twin Senate races on Jan. 5 against Republican office holders. That would deny Republicans their majority, keeping the GOP with 50 seats, while Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be available for tie-breaking votes.
Democrat Jon Ossoff is challenging Sen. David Perdue while Rev. Raphael Warnock takes on Sen. Kelly Loeffler. No candidate won at least 50% of the vote share in this month’s election, leading to the head-to-head runoffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.