An effort by former Jackson County Republican Party chairman Ron Johnson to challenge the residency status of over 2,000 county voters failed on Dec. 22 when the county elections board voted 3-2 to reject his move.
The effort was part of a larger state-wide move by an organization called "True the Vote" out of Houston, Texas, which is seeking to challenge the residency status of voters in Georgia leading up to the Jan. 5 runoff election. The group's focus is mostly to challenge absentee ballots, especially those which come from out-of-state. Military personnel, those temporarily living elsewhere and college students who reside in other states can still vote in local elections.
The group's efforts have failed across the state, however, as local county elections boards have overwhelmingly rejected the claims. Overall, the group is attempting to challenge the status of over 380,000 registered state voters.
Johnson presented the Jackson County Board of Elections with a spreadsheet of 2,320 names of registered voters in the county who he claimed have moved out of the county or out of the state. He told the board that the spreadsheet was enough to red flag those voters and have them prove their residency status before voting.
"All I had to do was prove probable cause and I did with those two laws," Johnson said after referencing state codes.
He said the board of elections should investigate each of those to determine their legal status to vote in the Jan. 5 election.
But elections board chairman Eric Crawford argued that Johnson didn't meet the probable cause standard and questioned Johnson about where he got his information from and how it was compiled.
Johnson admitted he was given the list by someone else, the True the Vote effort, and that he had not personally compiled the names.
"It doesn't get close to probable cause," Crawford said of Johnson's spreadsheet.
ADDRESS ISN'T DOMICILE
Johnson's list was apparently generated by cross-referencing local voter rolls with a national database of address changes, then broken down by county. The True the Vote group then solicited people in every Georgia county to take their local lists and file a challenge with their county elections board.
But changes of addresses doesn't automatically disqualify someone from voting in the county since the address change may be for college, the military or a temporary job elsewhere, elections officials noted during the meeting.
The county elections board heard a similar case in March when a voter in Hoschton challenged the residency of James Lawson, who was running for city council. Lawson got his mail at a house he owns in another county, but that ultimately didn't disqualify him from being a resident of Hoschton and legal candidate, the board decided.
After a move by the elections board's two Republican members, Jeff Hughes and Larry Ewing, to challenge 1,140 of the names failed 3-2, Crawford made a motion to deny Johnson's challenge, a motion that passed 3-2 with Crawford and the board's two Democratic members voting in favor of denial and Hughes and Ewing voting against it.
The action wasn't the first time Johnson had complained about wanting to "clean up" the county's voters list.
For a short time, Johnson served as chairman of the county elections board during which he brought up in a board meeting wanting to take people off local voter rolls who he claimed had moved.
Johnson was forced to resign as elections board chairman after it was revealed he was still involved in GOP party functions, a violation of state law for an election's board chairman.
Jackson County Democratic Party chairman Pete Fuller told the board that Johnson's efforts were just PR stunt to gin-up suspicion about the validity of elections.
Fuller said it was part of an old technique knowns as "voter caging" where spurious claims about voter registrations are used to challenge the legitimacy of voters. The effort is an attempt to put barriers up to some voters, forcing them to prove their legitimacy based on unreliable data.
"This is something that has been seen in case law for years and it's not legal," Fuller said.
Fuller also pointed out that as a practical matter, if someone from Jackson County moved elsewhere in Georgia, they would still get the same ballot since all the contest on the Jan. 5 runoff ballot are state and federal races.
At times the meeting got heated. At one point, Johnson began telling a story about an unrelated incident when Crawford interrupted and told him to stop. When Johnson kept on talking, Crawford raised his voice.
"Sir, sir, sir, sir I will have you removed from the meeting if you don't be quiet!" Crawford said. "This is a public meeting, you can speak and you've been given the opportunity to speak, but that (Johnson's story) has nothing to do with this hearing."
Johnson pushed back.
"You raise your voice way too much at people, way too much," Johnson said.
Crawford told him he could follow the rules or leave.
"Are we clear?" Crawford asked as Johnson sat silent.