Ten days have passed since Election Day and the Georgia electorate still doesn’t know who will lead the state after current Governor Nathan Deal’s term ends on Jan. 14, 2019.
In the face of a number of lawsuits from group’s challenging Republican candidate Brian Kemp’s conflict of interest over running for the state’s highest office while presiding over state elections, Kemp tendered his resignation from the Secretary of State position last Thursday, Nov. 8.
In his place, Deal appointed former DHS Commissioner Robyn Crittenden to serve as the Secretary of State in the interim.
In her role as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services, Crittenden was responsible for overseeing a $1.9 billion budget and 9,400 employees tasked with strengthening Georgia families and protecting vulnerable children and adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Deal appointed Crittenden to lead DHS in July of 2015.
Previously, Crittenden served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Georgia Student Finance Commission. She has also served as general counsel for Morehouse College.
“The Secretary of State’s Office is very important, and it has a tremendous amount of responsibility here in our state,” Crittenden said from her office in the Georgia Capitol in downtown Atlanta. “It is even more in the spotlight given what’s going on now with the election.”
One such election-related topic in the spotlight is voter suppression.
A protest at the state capitol resulted in 15 people being arrested, including Georgia State Senator Nikema Williams, who said she was an innocent bystander when capitol police placed her in handcuffs.
Williams gave a tearful speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday, the day after she and 14 protesters were jailed on misdemeanor charges. The demonstrators had been calling for uncounted ballots to be tallied.
Williams insisted she was not chanting, shouting or being disruptive. She said her arrest was “not something that I planned for and something that breaks my heart today.”
The Georgia Constitution says legislators “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly … except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace.”
Crittenden has pledged the Secretary of State’s office shall count every ballot. The Abrams campaign believes the majority of the ballots that remain are from precincts that were hardest hit by voter suppression efforts by the Secretary of State, formerly led by Kemp.
Kemp’s campaign, absolving its candidate from any wrongdoing, has affirmed its claim that the former Secretary of State is indeed the winner and disparaged the Abrams campaign’s efforts to fight for every vote to be counted.
“(Stacey) Abrams and her radical backers have moved from desperation to delusion,” said Ryan Mahoney, Kemp’s communications director, in a statement Monday. “On Saturday, Nov. 10, military, overseas, and provisional ballots were reported throughout Georgia. The counts are in line with publicly available tracking reports. This is not breaking news and does not change the math. Stacey Abrams lost and her concession is long overdue.”
Moreover, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg said late Monday that the secretary of state’s office could not certify results before Friday and that it had to “immediately establish and publicize on its website a secure and free-access hotline or website for provisional ballot voters to access to determine whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why.”
To comply with Totenberg’s ruling, Crittenden said her office took the following actions:
• Established and publicized a toll-free hotline – 1-844-537-5375 – and accompanying website for voters to check the status of their provisional ballots cast in the Nov. 6 election;
• Directed all 159 county election superintendents to similarly publicize the availability of the state’s hotline and website on county and county election websites;
• Directed counties with 100 or more provisional ballots to engage in a “good faith” review of voters’ eligibility for those who cast provisional ballots coded “PR” (not registered to vote) using all available registration documentation, including information provided by the voter through the time of the review; and
• Produced information in her possession responsive to the Court’s Order and sought to obtain additional information from county election superintendents.
At current, Kemp has acquired 1,977,502 votes, which equals 50.24 percent. Abrams now has 1,921,680 votes which equal 48.82 percent. According to current math, Abrams needs 18,617 votes to trigger a run-off, and just 16,296 votes to trigger a recount.
As the state’s Nov. 20 deadline to certify the election approaches, the courts have taken center stage. Crittenden has ordered each of Georgia’s 159 counties to count every vote, even if the ballot lack’s a voter’s date of birth, as long as the voter’s identity can be verified.
“What is required is the signature of the voter and any additional information needed for the county election official to verify the identity of the voter,” Crittenden wrote. “Therefore, an election official does not violate [state law] when they accept an absentee ballot despite the omission of a day and month of birth … if the election official can verify the identity of the voter.”
For example, ballots in Gwinnett County were returned because of insufficient dates of birth or lack of correct information.
The race in Georgia’s Seventh District, a race currently affected by the ruling, currently is a toss-up between Democrat Carolyn Boudreaux and Republican Rob Woodall. As of Wednesday, Woodall leads Boudreaux by only 901 votes.
Meanwhile, Lucy McBath began her Freshman Orientation as Georgia’s first Democrat representing the Sixth District since 1979. She emphatically posted on Instagram, “I am ready to get to work for the people of GA-06!”