Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 14, 2020


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 14, 2020

Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” on September 14, 1814.

On September 14, 1885, Georgia Governor Henry McDaniel signed legislation granting up to 200 acres in Fulton and DeKalb Counties to the federal government to be used in the constuction of Fort McPherson, which was named after Union Maj. Gen. James McPherson, who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died of an infection from gunshot wounds suffered eight days earlier.

On September 14, 1974, Eric Clapton’s cover of the Bob Marley song, “I Shot the Sheriff” reached #1 on the music charts. After 46 years, we still don’t know who shot the deputy.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Congressman Tom Graves (R-Ranger) announced he will retire early, before the end of his current term, according to CBS46.

Graves, who is in his fifth term, previously announced he would not be seeking reelection.

“With the House planning to wrap up the People’s business and the final report from the Modernization Committee set to be filed in the next few weeks, I intend to step down from Congress and begin the next chapter of life in October. Congress is going into a long recess and my committee work will be complete. In short, my work will be done. I’m announcing this today to avoid surprises, and it just doesn’t seem right to kill time on the taxpayer dime,” said Graves.

He continued by adding, “I plan to finish strong and will ensure any important transitional items are complete for my constituents in the 14th District. One of the last votes I’ll cast as a U.S. Representative will be in support of the reforms crafted by the Modernization Committee to make Congress work better for those we serve. I can think of no better way to leave The People’s House.”

Kevin Van Ausdal, the Democratic nominee for the Graves seat, dropped out of the election, according to the AJC.

Kevin Van Ausdal’s uphill campaign for a U.S. House seat ended with a knock on his door late Wednesday while he was cooking dinner.

It was a deputy sheriff, there to serve him divorce papers from his wife. As part of the proceedings, he would have to vacate the home they shared.

After flirting with renting a nearby place, the Democrat decided to move in with family in Indiana – and abruptly abandon his congressional bid for an open seat against Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The timing of the resignation puts Democrats in a bind. Because it’s within 60 days of the election, state law appears to restrict Democrats from appointing a successor. The Secretary of State’s office said he can withdraw his candidacy — but that “he cannot be replaced” on the ballot.

United States District Court Judge Amy Totenberg heard arguments on Georgia’s voting system, according to GPB News.

A federal judge could order Georgia elections officials to prepare additional backup copies of printed lists that show whether or not someone has voted, potentially minimizing delays on Election Day if check-in machines do not work.

“The longer the lines are, the more people are likely to leave,” Judge Amy Totenberg said, noting that paper backups could “meaningfully (allow) people to cast emergency ballots and move the lines quickly so people don’t give up.”

During a two-day Zoom hearing, which at one point was interrupted after someone started screensharing porn, images of swastikas and the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, Totenberg heard from experts in cybersecurity, statistics and election administration in Georgia as part of a lawsuit first filed in 2017.

One of the main goals of the suit seeks to scrap Georgia’s ballot-marking devices in favor of hand-marked paper ballots, something state officials said would be virtually impossible given the tight timeline of the November election, where absentee ballots start going out to voters next week.

The process of preparing ballots for the November election started a month ago, and if Georgia switched to hand-marked paper ballots, state elections director Chris Harvey said for example larger counties would be swamped by hundreds of ballot styles that must be available at each early voting location.

“Fulton County, with over 100 ballot styles in their 300-some precincts ends up with over 700 ballot (combinations), so those are 700 different pieces of paper that that you need to serve every voter in Fulton County,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Georgia State Elections Board made some changes to voting procedures, according to GPB News.

In a 3-1 vote, the election board approved a rule that would change the settings on scanners used to tabulate absentee ballots to count any mark that fills in more than 20% of the target area inside the oval as a vote.

Any mark that fills less than 10% of the oval is not a vote, and anything between 10-20% is flagged for a vote review panel to see if it was a stray mark or intended to be a vote.

Another rule passed by the election board aims to clarify the instructions for filling out an hand-marked ballot to ensure it is counted.

“Completely fill-in the empty oval to the left of the candidate name or choice in all races you wish to vote,” the new language will read. “Warning, do not use red ink or a felt tip pen to mark the ballot. Do not circle, underline, or mark through ballot choices. Do not use ‘check’ marks or an ‘X’ to mark your ballot.”

The State Elections Board also found that wearing a MAGA hat into the voting location violated voting rules, according to the AJC.

A man who wore a “Make America Great Again” hat when he went to vote violated a Georgia law prohibiting campaigning at the polls, according to the State Election Board.

The board voted 3-1 on Thursday to send Roswell resident Lee Holsworth a letter of instruction. He doesn’t face any other fines or penalties for wearing the hat at the Johns Creek Environmental Campus early voting location on Oct. 29, 2016.

The three Republican appointees on the State Election Board supported the finding that Holsworth violated state law, but the Democrat on the board opposed the decision.

“I just don’t think it’s a violation to wear a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat that doesn’t say to vote for any particular candidate on it,” said David Worley, a board member and former chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

The State Election Board cited a Georgia law that prohibits any voter from distributing or displaying campaign materials within any polling place.

Some Metro Atlanta employers are giving additional time off for employees to vote, according to the AJC.

Thousands of metro Atlantans who work for Coca-Cola or Mailchimp will get new paid holidays on Nov. 3, election day. Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, just added up to six hours of paid time off a year for its full-time employees to vote. Entities from Delta Air Lines to Home Depot and the Metro Atlanta Chamber are encouraging employees to volunteer as poll workers.

Companies are boosting efforts to share information internally and to the general public about voting deadlines and procedures and how to get an absentee ballot. They are offering access to sample ballots and ways to look up polling locations. Some, such as the Atlanta Falcons, which recently launched a Rise Up & Vote campaign through the national group Rock The Vote, are helping people check whether they are registered to vote.

Georgia requires that employees who give their employer reasonable notice be permitted to have up to two hours of time off to vote. For some voters stuck in long lines during the troubled primaries earlier this year, that wouldn’t have been enough time.

Coca-Cola said it made election day a paid holiday in response to employee feedback.

“Supporting our employees’ right to vote is fundamental to the strength of our democracy and the cause of free and fair elections,” Monica Howard Douglas, Coca-Cola’s North America general counsel, said on a company website.

Fulton County is adding more absentee ballot drop boxes, according to the AJC.

Fulton County plans to double the number of absentee ballot drop box locations for the general election in November.

The list of drop box locations will be updated on the Fulton County website, Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez, county Director of External Relations, said in an email.

The ballot boxes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fulton officials expect the Secretary of State’s office to begin issuing ballots for the general election on Sept. 18.

The county currently has 20 drop box locations for the special election for Georgia’s Congressional Fifth District race being held Sept. 29. Seven candidates are running to complete the remainder of the late John Lewis’ term, which ends Jan. 3. If none of the seven candidates wins a majority of votes that day, the top two will proceed to a runoff on Dec. 1.

United States Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Atlanta) is donating her Senate salary to nine charities, according to The Brunswick News.

Loeffler is donating her quarterly salary to the Glynn County Fraternal Order of Police “Cops and Kids” program and nine other charities. Each will receive $3,800.

“Countless Georgia charities and nonprofits have taken leading roles in providing much-needed resources for our communities over the last three months,” Loeffler said. “I cannot help but be inspired by so many of them that give selflessly to help those who need it the most.”

Others benefiting include the Athens Pregnancy Center, Boys and Girls Club of Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia Clinch Memorial Hospital in Homerville and Fort Valley State University Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development Program in Fort Valley.

The University of Georgia and other state colleges and universities will waive SAT requirements, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

SAT and ACT scores are optional next year for admission to the University of Georgia and other state public colleges and universities.

For UGA and other Georgia public colleges, waiving the test score requirement is temporary, caused by the pandemic. But other schools have made the change permanent.

A standardized test score is still a requirement to get some so-called “merit” scholarships, including Georgia’s prestigious Zell Miller scholarship, and similar scholarship programs modeled after Georgia’s lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, like Louisiana’s TOPS and Florida’s Bright Futures.

The Miller scholarship, the top tier of Georgia’s two-tiered HOPE scholarship program, requires a 1200 SAT score or a 26 ACT score.

At least one state legislator wants to change that and eliminate test scores as a requirement for the Miller scholarship, however.

“Hopefully, it will become a bipartisan issue,” said Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs.

State agencies are asking for budget increases in next year’s budget, according to the AJC.

A month after state agencies — covering everything from education to law enforcement — saw their funding cut by $2.2 billion, Gov. Brian Kemp showed optimism that Georgia’s economy would recover and told them they wouldn’t face more reductions next year.

State agencies responded by requesting an increase of about $700 million in the next fiscal year, according to budget proposals reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The governor will build his budget proposal for next year over the fall and present it to the General Assembly in January.

Last week Kemp’s office reported that tax collections were up more than 12% in July and August over the same months in 2019, countering the widely held belief that the COVID-19 recession would devastate state finances.

Hall County courts are considering how to restart grand jury proceedings, according to the Gainesville Times.

“(The judges) are going to be sensitive to those with medical concerns being called in,” court administrator Jason Stephenson said Friday, Sept. 11.

Stephenson said the court officials were still trying to determine a way they could allow potential grand jurors to communicate any health concerns without having to report in person.

“Every summons will include a letter from the chief judge detailing all the safety measures that we’ve spent the last four months designing and implementing so that they can have some confidence before coming in, knowing what measures we’ve taken,” Stephenson said.

Gwinnett County Commission candidates spoke to the Gwinnett Chamber, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

During a forum hosted by the Gwinnett Chamber this past week, the three Republican candidates said they will vote “No” while the three Democrats said they will vote “Yes” on the [transit] referendum.

“We need to vote ‘Yes’ on the referendum,” Democratic commission chairman candidate Nicole Love Hendrickson said. “It’s the only way we’re going to manage the growth that we’re about to see over the next decade.”

Meanwhile, David Post, who is the Republican nominee for commission chairman, said, “I don’t believe we’re in a position to vote ‘yes’ on Gwinnett County Transit. You know, when I look at the number of people that lost their jobs, businesses closed, businesses that have gone bankrupt, people that have lost their life savings, I don’t believe that the expense of the transit, or partnering in any way with MARTA, really makes any sense at this point.”

While the party line divide might seem anecdotal on the surface, there’s a deeper significance here since they have to share the general election ballot in November with the referendum.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter filed an ethics complaint against his Democratic opponent, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The longtime DA, who is running for a final term of office, filed an ethics complaint with the State Ethics Commission, alleging Austin-Gatson, her husband, Travis, and former sheriff candidate Curtis Clemons have been violating campaign ethics laws for months.

“Gwinnett’s citizens should be able to count on their District Attorney candidates to have the highest ethical standards,” Porter said in a statement.

The State Ethics Commission confirmed that it has opened an investigation into the complaint filed by Porter. Campaign rules in Georgia prohibit the use of government resources for campaigning.

Allegation against Austin-Gatson include: she and her husband allegedly made campaign fundraising calls while on county time; Solicitor’s Office employees were seen loading her campaign signs into a county vehicle and later placing them on a roadway; and that she asked county employees to help them create, edit and print campaign materials.

“It’s disturbing that my opponent would allegedly commit these corrupt acts. It is never acceptable to campaign on taxpayer’s time, while using taxpayer-funded government equipment, and pressuring your subordinates into campaigning for you,” Porter said in a statement.

“If true, these allegations show that Mrs. Austin-Gatson is willing to abuse her power — and possibly commit criminal acts — just to win an election. This alleged behavior is beneath the standards of the office that Mrs. Austin-Gatson seeks.”

The Floyd County Republican Party has opened a headquarters ahead of the November elections, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Georgia Public Service Commission Chair Chuck Eaton (R) joined Georgia Building Trades President Mark Templeton in an Op-Ed about Plant Vogtle and COVID-19.

Eight months ago, the sweep of human history shifted, and there are thousands of troubling stories of COVID-19′s impact. But amid the tragedy and adaptation, constructive partnerships have allowed Georgia’s largest construction project to continue. We — a labor leader and the chairman of Georgia Public Service Commission — have witnessed what it takes to keep a critical energy infrastructure project moving forward in the wake of a global pandemic.

A little history is worth reviewing. More than a decade ago and for a number of reasons — including diversifying Georgia’s fuel mix, reducing dependence on natural gas and coal, and to pair our state’s growing renewable energy with a 24/7 availability form of generation — the PSC approved the construction of new nuclear generation for our state’s economic future. If you followed the blackout news from California of late, we suspect they wish they had had similar foresight.

A modern society depends on energy in ways that most don’t have to contemplate. Always “on” is essential. We’ve built a reliable grid, which has helped make Georgia an economic beacon to the world. The mutual respect and common goals of worker safety, and continuance of construction at Vogtle, have led to a partnership between craft labor, the commission and the companies overseeing the project.

Current number of COVID-19 infections among the approximately 8,000 employees onsite is just more than 70 cases and falling. Thousands of industrious workers have stayed off unemployment ranks and have continued to know the dignity of providing for their families. And Georgia’s energy future is bright, with fuel load of the first unit scheduled for this December.

These successes owe to partnerships of many, but mainly to the workers who every day and night are safely building Plant Vogtle.

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