Is 2018 the year that Georgia finally turns blue?

Multi-Media Visions of Community

By: Robert Thomas

The Democratic ticket

Georgia Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams (top center) stands with several other Democratic candidates for office on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections at a rally in Conyers, Georgia on Oct. 26, 2018. Stacey Abrams spoke to potential voters at the Kingdom Builders Church in Conyers about what sets her apart from her opponent in the race.

“We have everything to lose, and everything to gain,” said Melissa Frost, a life-long democrat who recently became very politically active. Frost continued, “If we lose everything, and I’m not being hyperbolic, I feel that for most people we will have lost, and authoritarianism and kleptocracy will have won.”

Frost is a Cobb county volunteer for the Georgia Democratic party and the Stacey Abrams campaign who helps in canvassing, phone banking, and in training new volunteers to do the same. Frost is 47-years old and feels that this midterm election is more important than any she can remember in her lifetime. She is also not alone in this feeling, as a recent poll has shown that a broad majority of Americans, 62 percent, feel the same. Because of how important she feels this election is, and due to having more time on her hands lately, Frost has become more politically involved this year than she ever has.

“I am working very hard to turn it blue, and I think purple is a very distinct possibility,” Frost said. “I’ve talked to a lot of volunteers who have never gotten involved with politics at all beyond voting and they are determined to do whatever they can. ”

This personal anecdote of increased political participation is also seemingly not unfounded, as the Georgia Secretary of State’s office announced on Oct. 10 that Georgia had shattered it’s previous all-time voter registration record this year, with over 6,915,000 active and inactive voters on the rolls for the midterm election. Early voting in the election has also seen a dramatic increase of over triple that of 2014 in the first week of the election. Within the first eight days alone, 532,717 people cast their votes, versus the 164,298 votes cast in the first eight days of the 2014 midterms.

However, while this increased level of voter turnout may be encouraging for Democrats, there has been a long history of Democrats predicting that the state would flip to blue in previous election cycles, including in 2008, 2012, 2014, and most recently in 2016 – all of which fell short. In reference to why she feels that this year is different, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said,

Demography is never destiny. It tells you what’s possible, it doesn’t tell you what will happen. And what we’ve worked out for the last two years is actually engaging those voters who have been left out of the conversation. We’ve been to every county in the state, and we’ve been to every community in the state. We are doing more and investing more than anyone ever has before, because we are going to actually leverage and turn those voters into actual voters this year. That’s why we’re going to win, because we’re activating voters who have never been talked to in the state of Georgia.

Abrams has long worked to vastly increase voter registrations in the state, especially among millennials, nonwhites and unmarried woman. In 2013, as the Democrats’ minority leader in the Georgia House, she founded the New Georgia Project to get 800,000 people of color registered to vote within a decade. While the New Georgia Project is a nonpartisan organization, it mainly targets groups that consistently vote Democrat.

However, despite Abram’s confidence in her win, there is no shortage of election experts that will disagree with her. “I think she’s wrong. It’s totally demography,” said Kerwin Swint, Ph.D, a political science expert and the interim Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. “Georgia will likely be a purple or blue state soon, not because Georgians are becoming progressives or they are deciding that Democrats are right. It’s that the percentage of white voters is dropping. It’s purely racial.”

Swint referred to an article that he wrote for Georgia Trend Magazine in September of last year in which he argues that Georgia is likely to turn purple in 2024. While Swint believes it is a bit too early for the state to turn blue, he qualifies this prediction by saying that it is unlikely unless the “blue wave” materializes. Swint also says that this year could be different because of President Donald Trump energizing Democrats to come out to vote, but says the flip side of this is that he is also energizing Republicans to come out to vote as well. Trump famously tweeted out his endorsement for Sec. Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, during the primaries.

However, Swint is skeptical of Abrams’ claims that she is driving more voters to the polls that do not usually vote, due to how common the claim is among politicians, but says that the election results will be the true determining factor to if she is right. “Jason Carter went to every part of the state and he talked to Democratic voters too that ‘hadn’t been talked to’.” Swint continued, “But they didn’t show up for him. They might show up for her.”

While Jason Carter, the Georgia Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, supported a very moderate platform in attempting to win over voters in the state, Abrams has taken a path that is not typical for Democrats in Georgia by supporting a far more left leaning, or “progressive,” agenda in her campaign. Abrams, however, claims that her progressive values are Georgia values, and that voters will respond to her authenticity.

“I believe by being an authentic candidate who stands in my values and declares those values and connects them to policies that improve the lives of Georgians, that’s what people are going to hear and that’s why we’re going to win,” Abrams said.

Swint says that what is different about Abrams is that she will be able to rally the Democratic base in a way that Carter couldn’t because of this. Although Swint says a more leftist platform is a double-edged sword, he believes voters will respect her for standing strong in her convictions.

Additionally, Swint stated that the current record numbers in voter registration and early voting are an encouraging sign for Democrats. “It absolutely is a good sign and that may be an indication that that ‘blue wave’ is going to show up for her,” Swint says.

Get Out The Vote! GA Midterm Elections 2018

The Peak

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MIDTERM ELECTIONS APPROACHING 

The midterm elections are fast approaching on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6TH and, with most Americans saying that this election is the most important midterm in their lifetime, it is essential that voters are well informed. Not only does this election include the election of state governor, but a whole host of statewide offices, Georgia constitutional amendments and ballot referendums. Here is a brief rundown of the things you may need to know.

As represented on the useful Georgia 2018 elections and voter registration calendar, the final day for voter registration passed on October 9. However, if you have voted previously within the last two election cycles, it is likely you are still active and able to vote. You can check your voter status, voter information and local polling locations online on the Georgia “My Voter Page“. If your status is set to active, you’re good to go. This page also has a link to a sample ballot for the county you are registered in that is very worth checking out prior to voting. You are also able to contact the Georgia elections office by phone at (844) 753-7825 if you have any additional questions or the website isn’t working out for you.

If you don’t wish to wait in a longer line on the general election date, November 6, early voting may be the better option for you. Early in-person voting for the midterm election began on October 15 and ends on November 2. Your “My Voter Page” can show you the closest early voting locations and hours.

MEET THE CANDIDATES 

The statewide offices up for a vote this midterm are the positions of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State School Superintendent, Agriculture Commissioner, Insurance Commissioner, Labor Commissioner and Public Service Commissioner. Below is a list of the most important position’s candidates and a link to each candidate’s website to learn more about their specific platform and where they stand on the issues:

Another very useful resource for learning about all of the candidates is ballotready.org. After simply typing in your registration address, it displays all of the candidates, both statewide and local, that you will be voting on, as well as tons of basic information about the candidates and their policy platforms.

GET THE ISSUES 

Also on this year’s midterm ballot are five proposed Georgia constitutional amendments and two ballot referendums. The five constitutional amendments are obviously proposals to amend the Georgia constitution, which is much harder to overturn, while the ballot referendums simply amend current law. All of them were referred to the ballot by the legislature. However, some of them are quite confusing in their wording, therefore, below is a brief explanation of each. The AJC has also published a detailed explanation, which will be quoted or paraphrased from in this explanation.

Amendment 1: Land conservation, parks, trails

How it will appear on the ballot:

Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?

What it would do: This amendment would allow the legislature to allocate up to 80 percent of the existing sales taxes on sporting goods to conservation efforts. The measure would not raise taxes and expires after 10 years. Funds would be used to support state parks and trails, and acquire land for the provision or protection of clean water, wildlife, hunting, fishing, or outdoor recreation.

Amendment 2: Business courts

How it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for statewide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?

What it would do: This proposal would create statewide business courts, and according to advocates is a pro-business and cost-saving measure. However, under this measure judges to these courts are appointed by the governor to five-year terms with the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee and its counterpart in the House currently all trial court and appeals court judges are elected directly by voters rather than appointed. Under current law, presiding judges can already assign complex business cases to special masters with expertise in the subject area.

Amendment 3: Timber tax

How it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?

What it would do: This amendment is somewhat complicated and has a number of missions. Under a 2008 constitutional amendment, a property tax class was created to allow for the special assessment and taxation of forested land over 200 acres to encourage conservation of the state’s forests. This current proposal would allow the legislature to reassess these properties according to fair market value, rather than as forestlands, when reimbursing local governments for lost tax revenue and allow the state to keep up to 5 percent of these reimbursements for the purpose of administering the program. The proposal also authorizes the legislature to create a new class of timberland property, that is over 50 acres, to qualify for a lower property tax without being required to set it aside for conservation. The amendment contains no provisions for the state to reimburse local governments that lose revenue due to this new land classification.

Amendment 4: Crime victims’ rights

How it will appear on the ballot: 

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?

What it would do: This amendment would add legislation known as “Marsy’s law” to the state constitution and grants specific rights to crime victims. It requires notification of crime victims on hearings and other proceedings in their cases and gives victims the right to demand a court hearing if they feel proper notice has not been given in the case. Advocates say the measure will protect the rights of victims and grant them rights like defendants, however, opponents, like the ACLU, argue it undermines due process.

Amendment 5: Local option sales tax

How it will appear on the ballot: 

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per-student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?

What it would do: This amendment, according to the AJC, would “remove the requirement that a county school district and a city school district within the county’s boundaries must agree before calling a referendum to raise sales taxes for education.” The 1 percent sales tax would expire after 5 years.

Referendum A: Homestead exemptions for homes spanning county lines

How it will appear on the ballot: 

Do you approve a new homestead exemption for a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6%?

What it would do: This referendum, according to the AJC, would “allow a homestead exemption for homes in jurisdictions such as the city of Atlanta that straddle more than one county.”

Referendum B: Tax exemption for homes for the mentally disabled (technical change)

How it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?

What it would do: This measure ensures that homes for the mentally disabled are not disqualified from ad valorem tax exemptions, even when corporations are involved, or the housing constructed is paid for by financing from corporations.


Article originally published by The Peak

Georgia election officials struggle to ensure security in state elections

Multi-Media Visions of Community

By: Robert Thomas 

Brian Kemp Speaks.jpg

Sec. Brian Kemp speaks at a campaign event at the John Megel Chevrolet in Dawsonville, Georgia on Monday, October 1, 2018. Sec. Kemp spoke at the event as part of a political bus tour across the state with stops in several counties.

Are Georgia state election officials doing enough to ensure the security of the election? A mounting wave of controversies, evidence, lawsuits and expert opinion shows that your vote might not be as secure as you think.

According to US District Court Judge Amy Totenberg, Georgia voting integrity advocates have recently shown “the threat of real harms to their constitutional interests” in a case filed against Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state election officials. The plaintiffs in the case argued that Georgia’s touchscreen voting machines, which have been used since 2002, are vulnerable to hacking and lack a verifiable paper trail, and therefore sought an injunction to force the state to move to paper ballots prior to the upcoming midterm election.

Judge Totenburg rejected the injunction last month solely over concerns that the “massive scrambling” necessary for the state to switch prior to the midterm election would cause greater problems in the “orderly administration of the election” and disenfranchise voters further. However, Judge Totenburg heavily criticized state election officials as having “stood by for far too long, given the mounting tide of evidence of the inadequacy and security risks of Georgia’s DRE voting system and software.”

Several technology experts have criticized the insecurity of the state’s election system and warned it’s potential to be hacked. Hossain Shahriar, Ph.D, a professor of computer science and expert in computer and network security, does not believe state elections officials are doing enough to ensure the security of elections in Georgia. “I believe there is certainly opportunity to do more, at least to be at the national average. We have to see the investment and also the effort to make the election system secure,” Shahriar said.

Shahriar believes that the state is not devoting near enough of the state budget to ensuring that election systems are safe and secure.

Although there is no evidence that hackers have penetrated Georgia’s electronic voting machines during an election, Shahriar says that it would possible for malware to be written so that it’s undetectable, leaving no trace that the voting totals had ever been tampered with.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office oversees the integrity of elections in the state, has repeatedly stated that Georgia’s current voting system is secure. However, these arguments for the security of the system come despite a number of somewhat contradictory blunders that have plagued the Secretary of State’s office over the last year.

In August 2016, private cybersecurity researcher Logan Lamb discovered the records of more than 6 million registered Georgia voters, password files and encryption keys could be readily downloaded from a website of Kennesaw State University. Despite Lamb informing the election center, it took over six months for the center to address the issue.

Then in October of last year, AP news reported that a computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians shortly after the suit was filed. Sec. Kemp’s office later opened an investigation and concluded that Kennesaw State University’s elections center, where the voter data was maintained, acted “in accordance with standard IT procedures” when it wiped data from a computer server shortly after the lawsuit was filed. An investigation was launched by the FBI and closed without comment. Despite the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University ultimately reporting to his office, Kemp continues to blame the center for the issues.

Kemp denies that the voter server wipe had anything to do with his office. “What happened with the server was at Kennesaw State – it was their server,” Kemp says. “The FBI investigated that. They took the server. Anything that happened to that server, the FBI did it, so you’d have to ask Kennesaw State or the FBI about that.”

Kemp also claims there was never a data breach and that the notion there was is “fake news.”

Kemp says, “We have 12 discs that were released, we secured those, and no information got out to the public, and we’re making sure that never happens again.”

However, Kerwin Swint, Ph.D, a political science expert and the interim Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University, says that Kemp, who has been Secretary of State since 2010, is ultimately constitutionally accountable for the recent issues.

“His office definitely bears some responsibility, because it’s part of their job to maintain the voting systems to ensure that they’re safe and reliable, and obviously they’ve had significant issues doing that,” Swint says.

A number of activist groups have also raised questions about the ethics of Kemp, who is currently running for governor in the state, overseeing the integrity of an election in which he is running in, and have called for Kemp to step down as Secretary of State. “It is ethically wrong for a politician to oversee the campaign he is a candidate in,” reads an online petition launched by the groups Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and Resist Trump Tuesdays.

Kemp has dismissed any notion of stepping down as Secretary of State and his response to those questioning the ethics of his decision is to pass the buck onto his Democratic predecessors who he says did the same. “I’m doing the same thing that Democrat Secretary of State Cathy Cox did when she ran for governor.”

While it is true that three of Kemp’s past four predecessors launched unsuccessful campaigns for governor, both Democratic candidates Cathy Cox and Lewis Massey did not win their democratic primaries.

Kemp also places the burden on county officials to count and process voting totals state, despite his office ultimately certifying the election. “The counties actually count the votes and certify the election and then send it to us to double check it and then do the final certification, so there’s nothing improper about that at all. I’ve done that in the past and never had any issues, and we won’t have any this time,” Kemp said.