Alleged voter recruitment hijinks are no joke

It hardly seems unreasonable to ask, given recent events, whether the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit founded three years ago under the leadership of House Minority Leader and now Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, is the Wells Fargo of voter registration.

The venerable American financial giant, as is now widely known, sullied its long-respected brand by, among other things, pressuring employees to bring in as many new accounts as they could — a disastrous business plan that resulted in thousands of fraudulent bank and credit accounts being created in the names of people who didn’t even know those accounts existed, and whose credit was put at risk as a result.

A similar kind of pressure might well have been at work in voter recruitment drives in 2014 and 2016. Muscogee County Director of Elections and Registration Nancy Boren told a Sept. 20 hearing of the State Election Board that of more than 20,000 voter registration applications submitted by New Georgia Project canvassers, “a review of 3,112 pending voters for Muscogee County reflect the results of the difficulties with these forms.”

Some of the “difficulties” Boren described are hard to dismiss as routine mistakes; they include “duplicate registrations submitted within days of each other, often five or more with different last four [digits] of Social Security number … same handwriting on hundreds of forms,” incorrect driver’s license numbers, nonexistent street names, and so on.

If indeed these registration applications turn out to be fraudulent, they are not only damaging to the electoral process — the fundamental franchise of American citizenship — but they also pose a massive disruption to the work of the elections officials whose responsibility it is to see that everything is done by the book. Boren told the board that checking out such problem applications takes “four times what it takes to process a voter registration form with verifiable, legible information. Critical resources were used in these processes.”

According to a Facebook post by Muscogee County Elections Office staffers, one man told the State Elections Board that there was a “promise of payment with the option to return to work the following day, based on how many applications the canvassers could bring in.” Paying for the recruitment of voters (as opposed to paying for votes) is probably not illegal (assuming this did in fact take place), but as an incentive for exercising even a minimum degree of diligent integrity in the recruitment process, it fails even the Wells Fargo test.

Maybe the most exasperating aspect of all this is Boren’s testimony that her staff compiled weekly lists for New Georgia Project on voter application problems and deficiencies, but they were never picked up. “We support the vigorous registration process within legal guidelines,” Boren said.

According to staff writer Alva James-Johnson’s Thursday report, 52 of 208 voter applications investigated by state officials were from Muscogee County, and the State Elections Board has referred 53 allegedly forged voter applications from around the state to the Attorney General’s Office for possible prosecution; how many of those might be from Muscogee we don’t know.

Two hundred questionable voter applications in a state of more than 10 million isn’t yet on the infamous fraud level of dead Georgians allegedly voting for Eugene Talmadge in alphabetical order, but neither is it by any means a trivial matter. The circumstantial evidence Boren presented of large-scale, calculated manipulation of voter registration applications is compelling, and serious. The Muscogee Elections Office staff post notes that only the paid canvassers have so far been targeted by state investigators: “The line of questions, for a moment, seemed to raise a bigger issue, but alas, the young helpers of the non-profit got the short end.”

We agree. The question of whether vote fraud has been a deciding factor in Georgia elections — and the overwhelming empirical evidence is that it hasn’t — is in a large sense irrelevant. The more important issue is how much of it is happening at all.

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