Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 15, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 15, 2020

Friday, October 15, 1582 marked the beginning of the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar – the previous day was Thursday, October 4th.

George Washington left New York, the nation’s capital, on October 15, 1789, embarking upon the first Presidential tour to New England.

The world’s first combat submarine, CSS Hunley, sunk during testing in Charleston Harbor on October 15, 1863.

The 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution too effect October 15, 1933, changing the Presidential term of office to begin and end on January 20th following each quadrennial election and Senate and Congress to January 3d following biennial elections, both from March 4th.

Billy Graham launched his national ministry on October 15, 1949 in Los Angeles, California.

On October 15, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation creating the United States Department of Transportation. May God have mercy upon his soul.

Interstate 285 around Atlanta was completed on October 15, 1969.

The Omni opened in Atlanta on  October 15, 1972, as the Hawks beat the New York Knicks by a score of 109-101.

Former Secretary General of the Communist Party of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1990

Georgia-born Clarence Thomas was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court on October 15, 1991.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Here are today’s General Election stats, drawn from the Absentee voter file released daily by the Secretary of State’s office:

Total votes cast:          972,177

Mail-in votes cast:          585,593

Electronic:                            4,688

In-person votes cast:     381,896

Governor Brian Kemp will make a special announcement about Healthcare at a press conference today, according to the AJC.

The notice said little about the subject of the announcement. But Kemp is to be joined at the Georgia Capitol by officials who have been instrumental in forming his “waiver” proposals to reshape health insurance in Georgia.

Kemp’s proposals, if approved by the Trump administration, could affect hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Georgians. They’re called “waivers” because states may ask the federal government to waive parts of U.S. health care law, in order to tailor new programs to their own needs.

You can watch the Press Conference at 3 PM on Governor Kemp’s Facebook Page.

Governor Kemp announced yesterday that $1.5 billion dollars in federal CARES Act funding will be directed to the Georgia Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to offset borrowing by the Fund during the pandemic. From the Press Release:

By year’s end, the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) estimates that the state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund will have borrowed a total of $1.5 billion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Georgia’s labor force.

“COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to nearly every business – large and small – and upended the lives of millions of Georgians,” said Governor Kemp. “Through no fault of their own, thousands of people became unemployed overnight, businesses were shut down, and countless families suffered. Today’s announcement will save Georgia employers millions of dollars in state and federal unemployment taxes, prevent significant layoffs, and save the state millions of dollars in interest payments.”

“By directing these Coronavirus Relief Funds to the Trust Fund, we will ensure we’re prepared to meet the needs of struggling Georgians in the months to come and support businesses across the Peach State who are putting people back to work and serving their local communities.”

By allocating up to $1.5 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds for this purpose, Georgia will save the average Georgia employer approximately $350 per year for each employed worker.

With benefit payments projected to outpace tax revenue, Georgia will have to continue to borrow federal funds to pay benefits. After the Great Recession of 2008-2009, it took three years until tax revenue outpaced benefit payments on an annual basis. By 2023, without raising employers’ tax rates for unemployment insurance and without a capital injection, the GDOL estimates the state could borrow another $1 billion to pay benefits. With a substantial loan balance for three years, Georgia employers would also lose Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax credits, resulting in a cost of $85 million per year, compounded annually. By 2025, FUTA tax credit losses would have cost Georgia employers $500 million. Although economic forecasters predict that tax revenue will outpace benefit payments by this time, the difference would not be enough to repay the debt.

“Without the transfer of funds, the state will have to increase unemployment tax rates for employers between 300% and 400% to make headway on paying off the loan,” said Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “This reallocation of federal funds will allow more employers across the state to focus on the growth and success of their businesses without having the additional pressure of a rising unemployment tax.”

“As the top state for business for a seventh straight year, the allocation of these CARES Act dollars to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund highlights our state’s commitment to protecting Georgia jobs and saving businesses thousands of dollars per employee,” said Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan. “Governor Kemp has continued to prioritize both people’s health and their paychecks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and today’s action will only strengthen our state’s incredible economic momentum in the months and years to come.”

Governor Kemp is also committing up to an additional $400 million of the Coronavirus Relief Funds for the state share of matching funds for FEMA grants, Georgia National Guard expenses, continued hospital staffing augmentation, and state COVID-19 response expenses.

Governor Kemp has previously announced $113 million of CARES Act funds to Georgia nursing homes, $105 million in GEERS funds to support student connectivity and education, and $371 million in direct support to local governments for COVID-19 related expenses.

From WTOC:

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson claimed in a Facebook post that the funds allocated to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund should have been available to local governments.

Mayor Johnson states, “We were notified moments ago that Governor Kemp has made a decision to use ALL of the remaining funding committed to local governments to repay the Georgia Unemployment Trust Fund to avoid having to raise the unemployment tax.”

“As a result of this decision, there will be NO Round 2 or Round 3 funding for local governments, which the City of Savannah has used to assist families and businesses affected by COVID.”

From the AJC:

State officials estimate that committing the money to paying off loans to the unemployment fund will save the average Georgia employer about $350 a year per worker.

If all $1.5 billion is used, it will eat up the biggest chunk of the money the state had left over from the federal CARES Act. The state spent over $1 billion in the first few months of the pandemic, mostly on providing health care and acquiring medical equipment.

With benefit payments outpacing unemployment tax revenue paid by employers, the state has had to borrow money from the federal government to pay benefits.

After the Great Recession, it took until about 2014 for the state to repay such loans, brought on by a surge in benefits as hundreds of thousands of Georgians lost their jobs.

Nathan Humphrey, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, applauded Kemp’s move.

“2020 has been a challenging year for Georgia’s small-business owners and employees,” he said. “Today’s announcement means people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own because of the pandemic will have the support they need until they can return to work, and it relieves the financial pressure on the General Assembly to raise taxes on small businesses in order to support the Georgia Unemployment Trust Fund.”

Governor Kemp announced his appointment of Cheveda McCamy to a vacancy in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit’s Superior Court, serving Newton and Walton counties.

Early voting delays are being blamed on the computer system that checks in voters, according to the AJC.

Voting slowed to a crawl across Georgia this week in large part because of check-in computers that couldn’t handle the load of record turnout at early voting locations.

The problem created a bottleneck as voters reached the front of the line, when poll workers had to deal with sluggish laptops to verify each voter. Some early voting sites reported checking in just 10 voters per hour at each computer.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially attributed the lines to high turnout, which is part of the reason for delays. But it became clear from interviews with poll workers, election officials and voters this week that technical difficulties contributed to severe waits.

Later in the day, his office said the state’s elections software vendor, New Orleans-based Civix, had increased bandwidth, resulting in immediate improvements reported by many counties. Wait times fell from over three hours to about one hour Wednesday afternoon at several early voting sites in metro Atlanta.

From GPB News:

Georgia elections officials say they have fixed a capacity issue with the state’s voter registration database that has slowed the check-in process and contributed to longer lines this week.

More than 10% of Georgia’s 7.4 million registered voters have already cast their ballot two days in to the early voting period, including half a million absentee-by-mail ballots returned.

At a Wednesday press conference, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the eNet system, the state voter registration database used to check people in for early voting, is being accessed by more users than ever, bogging down the process and playing a contributing role in longer lines.

Another contributing factor to longer lines: More voters continue to line up well in advance of polls opening, creating hourslong waits from the start. With a limited number of machines at each location because of space constraints and social distancing, even as the check-in capacity issue is resolved there is a maximum throughput of voters per hour that can use the ballot-marking device system.

State officials strongly encourage the million or so Georgians who have requested and received but not yet returned an absentee ballot to do so, and said they are asking counties to provide more machines and locations throughout the rest of the early voting period that ends Oct. 30.

The Associated Press writes about why some African-American voters may prefer in-person voting.

The willingness of many Black voters to queue up instead of coming back another day is a measure of their determination and their skepticism about the system. Those in Georgia acknowledged they could have voted by mail or returned to a polling place at a different time; but with no expectation of voting becoming easier in the weeks to come, they saw waiting as a necessary step to ensure their votes get counted.

But in Georgia, which is viewed as more of a contested state than in the past, elections have drawn heightened attention in recent years.

Long lines caused in part by equipment problems marred the state’s June primary, and concerns about voter disenfranchisement have resulted in a flood of election-related lawsuits seeking quick-fixes before the November election as well as broader, long-term changes to the voting system, but officials have defended Georgia’s system.

Many Georgia voters said they decided to vote near the beginning of early voting rather than wait until closer to Election Day since long lines seem a given this year. Voting has been heavy in both Democratic-leaning precincts and Republican strongholds.

“I just don’t really trust the system, to say the least,” [voter Stephanie Loftin] said. “I feel that me standing in line and actually making sure my ballot it is in makes me feel better, makes me rest better at night.”

Still unsure why she was dropped from voting rolls two years ago, [voter Crystal] Clark decided to vote early in person after the mail-in ballot she requested in early September never arrived. Clark, who sells real estate, said she’s more protective than ever of her right to vote, and going to the precinct was worth the risk and trouble.

“I guess it’s insurance that my vote is going to count,” she said.

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

By day’s end, 1,338 Columbus residents had voted in person at Columbus City Services Center off Macon Road, the first of five early voting polls that will open here before the Nov. 3 General Election. On the first day of advance voting in the last presidential election in 2016, 1,748 ballots were cast, according to Ledger-Enquirer reports.

Voters wanting to get it over with started lining up outside the poll at 6 a.m. Monday, said Jeanette James of the Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registration.

She said the long lines were comparable to the last day of early voting, in a presidential election year, not the first day.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen it on the first day of early voting,” she said.

She said that from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., voters who are disabled or age 75 or older can move to the front of the line, where a Muscogee sheriff’s deputy stood at the door. Periodically poll workers were walking the line looking for those voters, to inform them they could move to the front, she said.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

“To sum it up, Georgia voters are excited and setting records every hour,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a press conference Wednesday. “And this is all during the pandemic, lest we forget.

The state hit record turnout even with 49 counties closed for the Columbus Day holiday Monday — beating by a landslide the previous record of 90,000 voters casting ballots on the first day of early voting in 2016.

By Wednesday, 742,893 voters — nearly 10% of the states total 7.6 million voters — have already cast their ballots, according to the Secretary of State. On the second day of early voting, 111,000 voters took to the polls.

Raffensperger pleaded with the 1.6 million Georgians who have requested absentee ballots to cast them instead of showing up in person. He reminded voters that coronavirus is still a risk factor at crowded polling sites.

“We would really be grateful if all 1.6 million of those ballots actually came in and people then didn’t show to vote in person,” he said. “Because that also takes the pressure off the polling location. … That really would help the counties all the way around.”

In Cherokee County, more than 21,000 voters have cast their ballots, according to the Cherokee Tribune Ledger News.

A total of 2,814 people turned out to cast in-person ballots on the first day of early voting in Cherokee County on Monday, election officials said. About 500 fewer people voted in person on Tuesday. The total for the two days was 5,113.

However, as of end of day Tuesday, 16,359 local voters had cast absentee ballots. So far a total of 42,623 absentee ballots had been issued.

Statewide more than 241,706 people — a record number — piled into polling places across the state to kick off early voting Monday and Tuesday, according to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. More than 500,000 absentee ballots have already been cast.

Voter turnout in Georgia is expected to top 5 million with a presidential contest and double the usual number of U.S. Senate seats. Perdue’s seat was up for election this year, while Loeffler was appointed to her seat this year after Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons. The open race to fill the final two years of Isakson’s term drew more than 20 candidates.

From the Macon Telegraph:

More than 1,000 people went to the polls Monday for the first day of early voting in Bibb County.

“At this turnout rate, we’ll be done voting in two weeks,” said Mike Kaplan, chair of the Bibb County Board of Elections.

Bibb County had 1,756 people vote Monday, with 872 of those ballots cast at the Board of Elections office. On the first day of early voting for the runoff election in August, 471 people voted, and 331 voters cast their ballots on the first day of early voting for the June primary and general elections.

Other than the long lines, the only complications in Bibb County happened at the Elaine H. Lucas Senior Center where they had trouble with the electronic poll pads, Kaplan said.

The City of Pooler reversed an earlier decision and will now allow an absentee ballot drop box at city hall, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Presumptive Member of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene has endorsed Senator Kelly Loeffler’s reelection, according to a press release from the Loeffler campaign.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, future Congresswoman for the 14th Congressional District, endorsed Kelly Loeffler in the race for her United States Senate seat.

“I decided to run for Congress to Save America and Stop Socialism. As a political outsider, successful business woman, wife and mom of three, I am fed up with business as usual in the Swamp,” said Greene. “The radical Democrat party is the party of Antifa/BLM riots, abortion up until birth, gun control, and Socialism. If they get their way in November, our economy will be wrecked, our jobs will be lost, and our country will be plunged into a Socialist hellhole. Georgia refuses to let that happen!”

“Over the last ten months, Kelly Loeffler has proven she is a conservative fighter by introducing and voting for legislation to end Antifa/BLM violence, Back the Blue, fighting for the unborn, protecting our Second Amendment, keeping biological men out of women’s sports, and holding China accountable. As the most conservative Senator in Washington, she has sponsored legislation and fought for the key issues I care about and will be fighting for as the first Congresswoman for Northwest Georgia. That’s why I’m excited to endorse my friend Kelly Loeffler for U.S. Senate, and will be voting for her in the November 3rd election!”

“I’m proud to be endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene in my race for U.S. Senate,” said Senator Loeffler. “Like Marjorie, I’m a political outsider and conservative businesswoman—not a career politician. As the most conservative U.S. Senator with a 100 percent Trump voting record, I’ve fought to protect innocent life, our God-given 2nd Amendment rights, our borders and our religious liberties. And just like Marjorie, I’ve taken on the radical Left, cancel culture, and Fake News media—and won. Our campaign has tremendous momentum, and I look forward to continuing to shake up the status quo in Washington and delivering results for hardworking Georgians.”

The Gainesville Times spoke to Congressman Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) about his long career in political office.

In the final stretch before a U.S. Senate special election on Nov. 3, the four-term congressman reflected on his time in the U.S. House representing the 9th District, which spans Northeast Georgia.

“Becoming a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee probably changed the trajectory of my service in Washington, D.C., in many ways, especially having to lead the fight against the impeachment, against the investigations and against the attacks of the Democrats on our way of life,” he said.

In comparing his state and federal tenures, he said, “In the states, there’s a lot you can get done. There are very few times a bill comes forward that is purely partisan. … Once you get to Washington, D.C., everything tends to be purely partisan. The person who has experience at the state level benefits greatly when they get to Washington. They understand the process of voting and how you build coalitions.”

The Chatham County Board of Elections will hear a challenge to the qualifications of County Commission candidate Tony Riley on October 27, according to WTOC.

The board chairman stated during Monday’s meeting that Tony Riley, a candidate for 2nd District Chatham County Commissioner, has a felony conviction on his record for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

In a 3 to 2 vote, the Board of Elections decided to hold a hearing on Riley’s qualifications.

Monday night, the Chatham County Board of Elections chairman told us if Riley was released from prison in 2011 like documents Smith provided say, he could be disqualified. But Riley will have a chance to defend himself in the hearing conducted by the election’s superintendent.

“This is an opportunity for him to present information that we would not know. Because he’s going to have documents that maybe we’re not privy to, and this is a hearing,” Smith said.

From the Savannah Morning News:

If Riley loses his hearing, he could appeal to Superior Court, but if his candidacy is eventually disqualified, all votes cast for him in the District 2 race will not be counted, Mahoney said. Riley’s Republican opponent, Larry “Gator” Rivers, would then win the election essentially unopposed.

On Wednesday afternoon, a challenge to Rivers’ candidacy was submitted to the Board of Elections by Clinton Edminster — one of Riley’s two Democratic primary opponents, both of whom have expressed interest in reviving their bids if Riley is disqualified. Edminster asserted that Rivers also has a criminal record that may be grounds for disqualification.

“Mr. Rivers has a history of running into the law as well,” Edminster said, adding that he believes the Board of Elections is duty-bound to investigate the Republican candidate’s background. “It’s the due diligence the board should do.”

According to court records provided by the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, Rivers was arrested in October of 2015 on charges of possession of a controlled substance (Xanax), possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and possession of a drug-related object for use. However, according to Mahoney, those charges were all dropped and no Board of Elections action will follow unless evidence of a disqualifying felony conviction is provided.

Reached by telephone on Wednesday evening, Rivers acknowledged the 2015 charges but said that “this whole thing was a set-up.” Rivers said Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap “expunged” all charges arising from his 2015 arrest.

“They didn’t have any evidence that I had those things,” Rivers said. “They wanted me to plead, and they didn’t have any evidence. … Meg Heap took a look at it, and she expunged it.”

The Gwinnett Daily Post profiles the candidates for County Commission Chair.

Republican candidate David Post and Democratic candidate Nicole Love Hendrickson are running for the chairman’s seat, which is open this year because current Chairwoman Charlotte Nash opted to retire at the end of the year. The candidates faced off Wednesday during a debate co-hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and WABE 90.1 FM.

Both candidates pitched themselves as the right fit for the job to lead the county as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it had on the county’s economy.

The debate touched on some topics that have arisen, not just in Gwinnett but also nationally, in recent years, such as policing and affordable housing, but also on more recent issues such as long lines for early voting and a new economic development tax showing up on property tax bills.

 

Columbia County public schools are increasing in-person instruction, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Columbia County Board of Education voted Tuesday to follow two recommendations from Superintendent Sandra Carraway — to allow all middle school students to return to classrooms, and to re-introduce Friday as an in-classroom day for high school students, depending on their academic performance.

Under the approved plans, sixth-graders wishing to return to in-person school can do so beginning Oct. 19. Seventh-graders can return Oct. 26, and eighth-graders Nov. 2. Middle school students who prefer to learn from home can choose to stay at home.

For high schools, students with C-grade averages or below will be required to attend in-person classes each Friday, starting Oct. 23. Students with A and B averages can choose either to attend each Friday or to continue Friday classes under the current hybrid schedule.

Bulloch County public schools suspended a change to COVID-19 policies after a letter from Georgia Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Kathleen Toomey, according to the Statesboro Herald.

During its scheduled regular session last week, the board unanimously approved a motion from District 4 board member April Newkirk to “reconsider the Department of Public Health guidelines, and if a student is exposed to a COVID-19 positive person, if the student that is exposed is wearing a mask, and it has been documented, they do not have to follow those guidelines of quarantining for 14 days.”

In her letter addressed to board Chairman Mike Sparks, however, Toomey stated, “This action is out of compliance with guidance issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Georgia Department of Public Health, as well as the legal requirements within the DPS’s Administrative Order issued on July 28, 2020.”

Additionally, Toomey advised Sparks in the letter, “Furthermore, I would like to remind you that failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor offense pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 31-5-8. Any person who refuses to isolate or quarantine as required by this Order may be subject to further action as may be necessary.”

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