Georgia officials to outsiders: Don’t move here to vote for Senate

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Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager for the Georgia Secretary of State's office, warned non-Georgians Thursday not to relocate to state to game the Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia officials are warning outsiders to butt out if they plan to move to the state just to vote in two U.S. Senate runoffs on the Jan. 5 ballot – something both political parties say they also oppose.

National attention remains on Georgia as it starts the tense recount of the 5 million votes cast in Georgia’s presidential election and as campaigning ramps up for a runoff between Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock and another runoff pitting GOP Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Those two high-stakes Senate races could determine whether Republicans maintain control of the chamber. 

Former Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced Monday that he will move to Georgia to help oust the two Republicans. Yang clarified Thursday on Twitter that he does not intend to vote but instead spend time campaigning for Ossoff and Warnock.

“People are so eager to believe ill of others,” he said. 

But Yang’s announcement and other similar comments were enough to stir up concerns about outsiders dropping in on Georgia solely to influence the Senate runoffs. On Thursday, Attorney General Chris Carr and Gabriel Sterling, voting system implementation manager for Secretary of State Brad Raffenspeger, discouraged people from attempting to sway the outcome by briefly moving to Georgia.

Carr sent a notice Thursday reminding the public of the state’s residency requirements and that anyone thinking of temporarily moving to Georgia just to cast a ballot could face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine. Georgians who are here and plan to stick around have until Dec. 7 to register to vote in the Jan. 5 runoffs.  

“In order to have the ability to register to vote in Georgia, you have to be a Georgia resident, which means you have to believe you’re staying in Georgia,” Sterling said at a Thursday press conference. “You can’t be a canvasser for (Michael) Bloomberg; you can’t be a canvasser for the Koch brothers and decide, hey, I’m going vote while I’m here.”

Leaders of both parties are warning non-Georgians not to relocate to the state with a short-term plan to cast a ballot in the Jan. 5 runoff.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio playfully warned of liberals establishing residency in Georgia while appearing at a rally with Loeffler in Marietta Wednesday. His comment elicited loud boos, jeers and cries of “go home!” from the conservative audience.

“You’re going to have a lot of political visitors from all across the political spectrum coming to speak,” Rubio said. “My understanding, what I learned last night is they’re even inviting people to move here because they can vote. I can’t do that, it would create all kinds of problems for me, but that’s how important this is. That’s how much this matters.”

For their part, Georgia Democrats are advising their allies to stay away because they don’t want people rushing in to help out in the middle of a pandemic, according to the Huffington Post. 

The warnings come as Georgia’s voting system’s integrity is called into question after President Donald Trump appears to have come up short in the state to Democrat Joe Biden. 

As of Thursday, Biden led Trump by about 14,000 votes in a state Trump won by 5 percentage points just four years ago. The president-elect’s margin of victory in Georgia – a state that has not helped put a Democrat in the White House since 1992 – is the tightest in the nation. At stake are Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes. 

Starting Friday, auditing teams and observers from across Georgia are set to begin the massive job of manually recounting the millions of ballots cast in the presidential election. 

The audit – which Sterling called a “re-tallying” of votes – should help instill public confidence in the state’s new electronic voting system, Sterling said. The losing candidate could still request an official recount if the margin of victory is within 0.5% after the results are certified. 

“The point of the audit is to show that the machines counted the ballots fairly and what we’ve said from the beginning, every single day, is that we want to get it right,” he said. 

Instead of quickly rescanning the ballots marked with QR codes, workers will conduct the recount by hand and read the printed text indicating each voter’s choice. The Trump campaign requested a hand count, though state election officials say that did not influence their decision. 

Sterling said Thursday that the number of votes varies by contest, noting that 24,000 Georgians skipped voting for the presidential race. 

Sterling also railed against people and groups spreading misinformation, including allegations that Dominion’s voting machines flipped Biden votes to Trump. 

“Anybody claiming that things are being cooked by a super-secret computer developed by the CIA is speaking nonsense,” Sterling said.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was conspicuously absent from the press conference Thursday. Raffensperger decided to quarantine after his wife Tricia tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Associated Press

Sterling said Raffensperger’s health status would not affect the recount and that he also planned to get tested for the virus. 

Georgia’s election results are required to be certified by Nov. 20.

Georgia Recorder reporter Ross Williams contributed to this report.

Photo: Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, warned non-Georgians Thursday not to relocate to state to game the Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

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