ATLANTA — The legal team for Stacey Abrams’ campaign announced Thursday that it would file a lawsuit in Dougherty County claiming that voters were denied the opportunity to cast mail-in ballots for Tuesday’s election.
When word of that announcement reached Albany, it triggered a public response.
The Abrams campaign held a press conference with the campaign’s litigation team and senior leadership to confirm that they are pursuing multiple options to ensure that every single eligible vote is accounted for.
“Our ongoing legal efforts are not about Stacey Abrams — they are about protecting our democracy and ensuring every eligible Georgian’s voice is heard,” Abrams Campaign Manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a news release late Thursday afternoon. “We will continue to advocate for every ballot to be counted and take the appropriate legal measures to ensure the legitimacy of this election.”
Officials with the campaign said they are filing a complaint in the U.S. District court for the Middle District of Georgia in Albany asking for an injunction to direct the Dougherty County Elections Office to count any absentee ballots received between 7 p.m. on Tuesday and close of business today, which is consistent with the way that counting overseas military and overseas citizens’ ballots are handled.
The campaign also argues that Hurricane Michael’s impact may also play a role.
“Many parts of south Georgia have their mail routed through Tallahassee, which suffered severe damage,” a statement from the campaign said. “How many ballots were delayed because of the storm or other factors remains unknown. We also do have reports from our hotline indicating that ballots never showed up, or showed up late in south Georgia.”
An employee of the Dougherty County Elections Office answered a call from The Albany Herald on Thursday seeking comment from Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson. She put The Herald on hold, and came back and told the reporter that Nickerson had no comment.
The Abrams campaign said it is formally requesting that all counties preserve any and all documents that may pertain to the election.
“We are investigating multiple cases from students who believe they timely and properly submitted their absentee ballots but when they checked the (Georgia) Secretary of State’s website, it appears that those ballots have not yet been accepted,” the campaign said. “Therefore they are not being included in the most recent count. The Secretary of State’s office has not responded to these students regarding when their votes will be counted.
“The Abrams for Governor campaign is working to try to get more information regarding the provisional ballots, but as has been conveyed, the Secretary of State’s office is being slow to respond. One of the challenges is that as we pursue these questions, in many instances, we’re relying on hastily scribbled handwritten notes and unclear directives from the Secretary of State’s office to the counties.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sent out a notice Thursday encouraging those who voted by provisional ballot to follow-up with their county election’s office by the end of business today to make sure their vote is counted.
At news conference in downtown Albany late Thursday afternoon, Albany attorney Maurice King remarked on the matter along with two concerned Albany State University students.
“If you mailed an absentee ballot you need to call the elections office and confirm that the ballot was actually received and counted,” King said. “There are a lot of provisional votes at Albany State. If you vote a provisional ballot there is something else they are going to require you to do is call the elections office and make sure their ballot is going to be counted if you voted provisional. You might have to bring in some information like and ID or something like that.”
Two Albany State said they saw many voters turned away from ASU’s precinct at Lovett Hall.
“I didn’t have any problems with voting because I sent in my absentee ballot earlier,” Samantha Jones said. “But a lot of our students were being turned away at the polls. We’ve done countless voter registration drives so we could get our students to vote on campus. And when the time came around on election day, a lot of them were being turned away or denied provisional ballots.”
Fellow ASU student Jasmine Browner agreed.
“Thankfully I didn’t have any problem voting, but unfortunately many of my peers did have trouble voting,” Browner said. “They were being turned away. We worked really hard informing out students what to bring to the polls. When they were getting their IDs scanned they were told they were not registered there or were not in the system. And these were students who had voted at Lovett Hall before.”
The Abrams campaign further contended that it is not possible for the state Secretary of State’s office to assert it knows the total number of outstanding ballots, given that there are more votes yet to come in and provisional ballots have yet to be counted — stating that an additional 236 votes for Abrams, 65 Kemp and two Metz votes were identified Thursday morning.
“Our mission is to make sure that every eligible vote in Georgia is counted and until that happens we will continue to fight,” the campaign said Thursday. “Data is continuing to be reported and revealed by the Secretary of State’s office; it is a fact that the numbers are close and the universe of unknown ballots yet to be counted or discovered indicates that this race is still too close to call.
“In fact, just this morning, in four counties, Bibb, Taliaferro, Floyd, and Coffee there was a deficit of 2,211 in the number of advance early voters than appear to have been counted in the returns from those four of 159 counties. Our opponent Brian Kemp should want the same thing so that the people of Georgia can have full confidence of the legitimacy of the person who ultimately becomes Georgia’s next governor.”
Voters continue to report they are unable to verify on the Secretary of State’s website the absentee ballot they submitted has been counted.
The Abrams legal team includes John Chandler, a retired Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and King & Spalding partner; Elizabeth Tanis, who also was a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and King & Spalding; Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, a founding partner of Lawrence & Bundy and a former partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan; Dara Lindenbaum, a senior counsel at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock; and Kurt Kastorf of the Summerville Firm.
Brian Kemp, who resigned from his post Thursday as Georgia’s secretary of state, has declared victory in the race. Gov. Nathan Deal appointed former Georgia Department of Human Services Commissioner Robyn A. Crittenden to serve as secretary of state, filling the vacancy created by Kemp’s resignation.
The state Secretary of State website showed as of Thursday evening that Kemp had brought in 1,973,120 votes, putting him at 50.33 percent. Abrams had received 1,910,396, putting her at 48.73 percent while libertarian Ted Metz had received 37,089, putting him at .95 percent.
Abrams argues that there are still enough ballots outstanding to trigger a runoff election in December. A call to Kemp’s campaign office led to The Herald being directed to a spokesmen for comment, who did not respond by presstime.
Terry Lewis contributed to this report