Last December, Oconee County resident Pat Daugherty, on behalf of True The Vote, challenged the eligibility and right of 1,450 Oconee County voters to participate in the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff election, contending the voters had moved out of the county permanently.
The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration unanimously rejected the challenge on the grounds that there was no probable cause of a violation of Georgia law that would render the voters ineligible to cast a ballot.
An analysis of voter records for the county shows that 165 of those challenged voters cast a ballot on the Jan. 5 election. That means that 1,285 did not.
The vast majority of those who voted–132--did so in person, meaning they provided identification and were deemed eligible to vote. Only 33 of the 165 cast an absentee ballot.
The challenge by Daugherty and Texas-based True The Vote takes on new significance because of changes in the Georgia election law that went into effect on July 1.
These changes encourage and build on the challenge Daugherty initiated in Oconee County and True The Vote initiated around the state.
That provision of the new law–as well as the December challenge--came up in a discussion by Oconee County Director of Elections and Registration Rebecca Anglin with Oconee County Democrats in June.
Background On Challenge
Pat Daugherty, who lives on Price Mill Road west of Bishop, submitted a list of voters to the county on Dec. 18 and said that she was challenging their “eligibility to vote in the January 5, 2021, Election.”
“Available data from the United States Postal Service National Change Of Address (NCOA) and other commercially available sources demonstrates probable cause to believe these individuals no longer reside where they are registered to vote,” Daugherty wrote.
“In fact, these electors appear to have permanently established other residence, as reflected in their change of address, to residential addresses outside of the Georgia county in which they are currently registered to vote,” Daugherty contended.
Daugherty said that Georgia law “requires that if a person removes to another state, or to another county or municipality within the state of Georgia, with the intention of remaining there an indefinite time and making another state, county, or municipality such person's place of residence, such person shall be considered to have lost their residence in Georgia, or in the former county or municipality, notwithstanding that such person may intend to return at some indefinite future period.”
Daugherty, who is active locally in Conservative Republican Woman, said she was taking the action at the request of True The Vote. Daugherty unsuccessfully challenged state Sen. Bill Cowsert in the Republican Party primary in 2016.
With the December electoral challenge, Daugherty submitted a spread sheet containing 1,450 names of Oconee County registered voters. The spread sheet also contained a forwarding address for each name.
At a called meeting of the Board of Elections and Registration on Dec. 28, County Attorney Daniel Haygood said that the Board would have to establish probable cause were it to action.
“Probable cause exists when there are facts and circumstances that could create a reasonable belief that the accused person committed the act alleged,” Haygood said.
The determination must be individualized to each of the voters, Haygood said, and the burden of proof rests with the accuser, in this case, Daugherty.
The Board unanimously approved a resolution stating that “the Oconee County Board of Elections finds that Patricia Daugherty has failed to establish probable cause in her challenge of the eligibility” of the voters on the submitted list.
In an email message on Dec. 28 after that meeting, Daugherty told Oconee County Assistant Director of Elections and Registration Jennifer Stone that state law “mandates that the registrar hold a hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the voter is not qualified to vote.
“Please accept this letter as a request for the determination made by your office as to each of the qualifications of each of the electors that I have challenged,” Daugherty’s email continued.
“Please include the date and time of the hearing and the basis for your determination,” she wrote.
“As no probable cause was found, for the current election, no further action on your challenge as to those electors will be taken and the matter is final as to the Board of Elections’ actions on this matter,” County Attorney Haygood responded.
I had asked Haygoood for and been given a copy last December of the spreadsheet Daugherty submitted with her challenge.
|Response To True The Vote|
It had been my intent to follow up on the challenge at some point, but I was spurred to do so when Ken Davis, the Democratic representative to the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, mentioned Daugherty’s action at the June 17 meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party.
Davis’ reference was in response to County Director of Elections and Registration Anglin’s comments about changes in the new voting law, Senate Bill 202, passed by the General Assembly in this year’s session.
I subsequently asked Anglin and Assistant Director Stone for a copy of the list of voters who cast a ballot in the Jan. 5 runoff for the U.S. Senate seats.
These records are open to the public. The public records, of course, only indicate if a person voted, not for whom that person voted.
Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won the Jan. 5 runoff elections, though they did not carry Oconee County.
Stone provided me two separate spreadsheets, one for voters who cast a ballot on election day and another for voters who had cast a ballot in early voting and via absentee ballots.
The files did not have the same format, so I had to modify them before merging them.
The total number of persons on the lists was 23,563.
The merged file of persons who cast a ballot as well as the file submitted by Daugherty in December contained the official registration number of each voter.
I merged the two files in Excel and then manually highlighted and coded the instances where one of the voters challenged by Daugherty actually cast a vote.
This was a manual process, requiring me to examine each of the 23,563 voter records.
I did this twice on two separate days to check my work.
Findings Of Comparisons
The analysis shows 165 of the 1,450 voters Daugherty and True The Vote challenged as ineligible sought to and were allowed to cast a ballot.
The remaining 1,285 on Daugherty’s list did not cast a ballot in Oconee County.
Of those 165 who cast a ballot, 50 cast the ballot on election day at the polls, where votes have to present a form of identification.
Another 82 cast their ballots in early voting, where voters also have to present a form of identification.
The remaining 33 voters used absentee ballots, where, under the old law, identification at that time was via a signature on file and a sworn statement of the authenticity of the vote.
The law was changed on July 1 to make absentee voters also show identification.
Addresses Of 165 Voters
Each of the 165 voters on the list submitted by Daugherty who cast a ballot did so using the address challenged by Daugherty.
The vast majority (135) of those whose name was on the list submitted by Daugherty were listed as moving to somewhere else in Georgia, with Athens-Clarke County accounting for 59 of those.
Eleven of the addresses were in Barrow County, and the same number were in Walton County.
For whatever reason, these people still treated Oconee County as their legal residence and were allowed to vote accordingly.
Out Of State Votes
Nine of the 30 voters who cast a ballot with an out-of-state address were listed with an address in Florida.
Five had a South Carolina address on the file of challenged voters, and four had a Texas address.
Two of the addresses were in Alabama, one was in California, one was in Illinois, one was in Massachusetts, two were in New Hampshire, two were in New York, one was in Ohio, one was in Virginia, and one was in West Virginia.
Seventeen of the 33 absentee ballots were cast by persons whose address on the challenge list was out of state. Four of those absentee ballot addresses were in Florida.
Explanation Of Addresses
I asked Stone if it made sense that some of the forwarding addresses were for winter homes, for military assignments, for those attending college, and for those moving locally for work assignments. I did not ask her about specific cases.
Stone said those were possible explanations for the forwarded addresses for the 165 cases where a voter had cast a ballot.
Stone also said the updating of voting records based on the National Change Of Address forms will occur later this year as part of routine cleaning of the county’s voter files.
What is clear is that very few of the 1,450 persons listed on the spreadsheet submitted by Daugherty on behalf of True The Vote actually cast a ballot.
Of the 165 who did cast a ballot, all but 33 showed up in person and were judged eligible to vote in Oconee County by election officials.
Only 17 of those who did not show up in person, but rather cast a ballot absentee, were using an out-of-state address.
The data do not support the supposition behind the True The Vote challenge that significant numbers of voters from Oconee County who moved out of state and were no longer eligible to vote in the U.S. Senate races in Georgia actually voted.
New Election Law
The General Assembly changed the Georgia Election Law following the challenge by True The Vote in Oconee County and elsewhere in the state.
|Except From Senate Bill 202|
The True The Vote needed a local voter to make the challenge in Oconee County, and Daugherty assumed that role.
Across the state, True The Vote challenged an estimated 360,000 voters.
In light of the challenges, the new law set forth precise procedures for an “elector,” that is, a voter, to challenge anyone applying to register to vote, anyone who is registered to vote, and anyone attempting to vote.
The law is explicit in stating that “There shall not be a limit on the number of persons whose qualifications such elector may challenge.”
The law states that a “challenge may be made at any time prior to the elector whose right to vote is being challenged voting at the elector's polling place or, if such elector cast an absentee ballot, prior to 5 p.m. on the day before the election absentee ballots are to begin to be scanned and tabulated.”
In responding to questions at the Democratic Party meeting in June, Director of Elections and Registration Anglin had emphasized that a key restriction on the challenge under the new law is that it must precede the vote.
The law states that the county’s Board of Registrars, officially the Board of Elections and Registration in Oconee County, shall immediately consider such a challenge and determine whether probable cause exists to sustain such a challenge.
“If the registrars do not find probable cause, the challenge shall be denied,” the law states.
“If the registrars find probable cause, the registrars shall notify the poll officers of the challenged elector's precinct or, if the challenged elector voted by absentee ballot, notify the poll officers at the absentee ballot precinct and, if practical, notify the challenged elector and afford such elector an opportunity to answer,” the law continues.
“If the challenged elector appears at the polling place to vote, such elector shall be given the opportunity to appear before the registrars and answer the grounds of the challenge,” according to the law.
Oconee County’s Election Board
The composition of Oconee County’s Board of Elections and Registration is controlled by Georgia Code, according to County Attorney Haygood.
Effective Jan. 1, 1999, the county’s Board of Elections and Registration is composed of five members.
One member is appointed by the political party which received the highest number of votes within the county for its candidate for governor in the general election preceding the appointment.
One member is appointed by the political party which received the second highest number of votes in the county for its candidate for governor.
These appointments are made by the party chairperson and ratified by the party executive committee.
The remaining three members are appointed by the Board of Commissioners, with the Board designating the chair from among these three. The commissioners appoint the director of Elections and Registration and then name that person as chair of the Board of Elections and Registration.
All Election Board members are appointed for four-year terms.
Current Members, GOP Discussions
At present, Davis is the Democratic Party representative to the Board of Elections and Registration, and Kirk Shook is the Republican Party representative
Anglin is the chair, and Jay Hanley is the vice-chair. Hanley is a former chair of the Oconee County Republican Party.
Doug Hammond, who has not been active in local party politics, is the final, commission-appointed member.
The new procedures for challenges as spelled out in Senate Bill 202 was discussed briefly but negatively at the meeting of the Democratic Party in June.
I do not know if the law generally or the use of challenges has been discussed by the Oconee County Republican Party.
The party leadership prohibits me or anyone on my behalf from recording its meetings. I cannot attend for health reasons.
No other reporter covers meetings of either of the two parties.
The Democratic Party live streams its meetings, which I attend remotely.