SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- A conservative group said Friday that it's challenging the eligibility of more than 364,000 Georgia voters before election officials in each of the state's 159 counties ahead of January runoff elections that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.
The Texas-based True the Vote said it's working with Georgia residents across the state to make challenges under a state law that allows any registered voter to challenge the eligibility of any other voter within the same county. It's up to local election boards to determine whether those challenges have merit.
The Georgia Democratic Party's executive director, Scott Hogan, called the voter challenges “blatant efforts to suppress the vote.” An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said they violate federal law.
Georgia's status as an electoral battleground was proven in November when Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Now GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both face runoff elections Jan. 5. If both lose to Democratic challenges John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Democrats will take control of the Senate.
Lawsuits filed by allies of President Donald Trump after the Nov. 3 election failed to turn up proof of widespread voter fraud. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, has defended the election results. Still, many Republicans have refused to accept the outcome and have tried to cast doubt in the fairness of the Senate runoffs.
“Ongoing debates about the November election throughout the country have Americans focused intently on improving the integrity of our elections and restoring the faith of voters," Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, said in a statement Friday. “Today we assisted concerned Georgia voters in taking a stand for the sanctity of every legal vote.”
The group said voters are being challenged based on questions about their residency based on change of address data obtained from the U.S. Postal Service.
Election officials in Cobb County on Friday rejected complaints brought by Jason Shepherd, the county's Republican chairman, and a local GOP activist that sought to call into question the registration of more than 46,000 voters. The elections board voted unanimously, the Marietta Daily Journal reported.
A similar challenge targeting more than 4,000 voters in Muscogee County, which includes Columbus, was found to have probable cause Wednesday by county election officials, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported. That means anyone on the challenged list who attempts to vote will have to prove their eligibility — as will anyone challenged who mailed absentee ballots that have yet to be opened.
State law says counties can't certify their vote totals until they have decided all challenges to people who voted.
Rejection of a similar challenge filed over the summer in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, ended up before a Superior Court judge. The judge refused to order county election officials to reconsider in a brief ruling that said federal election law preempted Georgia law.
The ACLU of Georgia sent a letter to county election officials across Georgia urging them to reject the challenges, which the group said violates a federal law that prohibits any systemic removal of voters from the rolls less than 90 days before an election.
Not only is Georgia's election less than three weeks ago, but early in-person voting in the state began Monday.
“We write to warn all county Georgia elections officials that participating in this charade violates state and federal law,” wrote Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Accordingly, you must reject such challenges because they lack probable cause, and you cannot force hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters to answer these baseless charges as a condition for having their ballot counted.”
Because the challenges are carried out at the local level, Raffensperger has no role even though he's the state's top elections official. In a statement, he did not endorse the residency challenges but said he supports "any effort that builds faith in our election system that follows the proper legal procedure.”