Election Deniers in Georgia Are Now Using AI to Challenge Voter Eligibility

May 28, 2024
6 mins read
Election Deniers in Georgia Are Now Using AI to Challenge Voter Eligibility
Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB News

On the first day of early voting in the May primary, the conference room at the back of the Bibb County Board of Elections was packed — spilling into the hall — to hear David Sumrall. 

“My purpose is simply to help move us toward the cleanest voter roll possible, which lists only lawful voters,” Sumrall, head of the Bibb County GOP, said in the preamble to the case he was prepared to make.

Sumrall was prepared to challenge the registration of just under 800 county voter registrations, close to 1% of Bibb County voters. 

These were 48 voters whose registered addresses are P.O. boxes or UPS centers, 159 Mercer University students sharing the same on-campus address, and 585 people he claimed are double-registered in two communities. 

Sumrall had them all on a spreadsheet, which did not impress election board Board of Election member Karen Evans Daniels. 

“Anybody can make a spreadsheet,” she said.  

And where, she asked Sumrall, did the spreadsheet come from anyway?  

“This information was compiled from state and federal source data using the Eagle Eye Network an analysis tool,” Sumrall said.  

Eagle AI (pronounced Eagle EYE), is software developed in part by Columbia County doctor John W. “Rick” Richards Jr.    

The implied promise of Eagle AI is if anybody can make a spreadsheet, Eagle AI can make a spreadsheet faster than anybody.    

Understanding how it works

On a collection of Zoom calls obtained and curated by the investigative watchdog group Documented, Richards can be seen explaining the details.  

“We use Jason’s algorithms to help develop some of these workspaces,” Richards said in one video. Jason is Jason Frazier, a pioneer in challenging voter registrations in Georgia.  

“Jason is the one who has done the most work with this data,” Richards continued. “So, Jason, how’s it going in Fulton County with your, let me say, 30,000 challenges?”  

Frazier’s playbook is echoed by the challenges filed in Bibb County: question voter addresses at post office boxes and other non-residential addresses and be suspect of voter names showing up in more than one city or state. If you’ve ever googled yourself and found someone with your name on the other side of the country, you see how widespread the last problem could be.  

What Rick Richards and others have done is create software that very quickly — with a few keystrokes — cross references threads like local voter rolls and the national change of address database to generate challenge lists along Frazier’s lines, but at high speed and high volume.  

On a more recent Zoom call also obtained by Documented, Richards said Eagle AI is intended for three types of people.  

First, he said, there’s the citizen who wants to verify the county voters rolls. The second is the county election board which “is getting 15,000 challenges on a spreadsheet and doesn’t know what to do with them.”  

The third would be the state. But the state of Georgia, so far, doesn’t want Richards’ help. 

“We have much, much better tools in the form of the electronic registration information center: ERIC,” said Mike Hassinger, spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State Office.  

The benefit of government data

ERIC was the accepted tool for states to check voter registrations until a few years ago when far right activists began discrediting it. Now eight states have pulled out of the interstate consortium.  

But, through ERIC, officials can see if someone votes in more than one state. It can do that because it has access to what is otherwise private government data.  

“We have access through ERIC, for instance, to the master death database from Social Security,” Hassinger said.  

By Richards’ own admission, Eagle AI does not. It scrapes online obituaries instead.  

That Eagle AI is blind to many official government sources is a fact about which, on another Zoom, Rick Richards expressed some jealousy. 

“I want access to the data that ERIC gets automatically,” he said. 

“It would make our product and other people who work in it so much more effective,” he said. “If we just get the date of birth, for example; if we just get the real felon list.” 

Fact-checking

Under Georgia law, voter challenges must be heard.  And remember: Richards says he intends for county boards of election to use Eagle AI to check those challenges.  

That raises a real possibility of county boards fact checking Eagle AI-generated voter challenges with Eagle AI. 

Marisa Pyle of the advocacy group All Voting is Local said that is a problem.  

“It’s an ouroboros of sort of disinformation at this point,” Pyle said.  

A disinformed snake eating its own tail, which, Pyle said, could stoke election deniers.  

“It’s also self-motivating of, you know, if we keep if we keep finding these programs that return faulty results, that support this narrative of mass ineligibility, it then it keeps those folks engaged,” she said. “It keeps them angry about this perceived problem. And it fuels that fire.” 

Hassinger said that about a year ago, Richards tried to sell Eagle AI to the state, essentially claiming the software is the fire extinguisher to that fire.

“If I were trying to sell a product, in this political environment, where you have a significant percentage of the population of voters who don’t trust the election process and wanted to scare them into purchasing my product, I’d make claims like that,” Hassinger said.  

The state has not yet bought.  

But in Rick Richards’ native Columbia County, it’s a different story.

There, the county board of election signed a contract with Eagle AI — though county elections supervisor Nancy Gay said she can’t yet vouch for it.  

“That’s correct,” Gay said, “because he hasn’t signed the agreement and returned it back to us yet.”

Gay said even if that changes, she doesn’t intend to use Eagle AI alone to check registrations.  

“No, no, no. It’s just — it would be a tool,” Gay said. “Just another tool that we could have at our disposal, I guess, to try and help keep a clean voter list.”  

Decisions

A just-passed Georgia law, Senate Bill 189, seems tailor-made to set up Eagle AI as the tool for checking registrations.  

For instance, SB 189 allows problems surfaced through the national change of address database to be sufficient for removing a voter, giving extra validity to the “one name in two places” argument.  

It also eliminates using post office boxes as proof of residency for voting purposes.   

SB 189 goes into effect in July.  

At the Bibb County Board of Elections, board members did their own research of David Sumrall’s Eagle AI-generated challenge of 585 voter registrations.  

“At least 551 of those voters are inactive, according to the Secretary of State’s office,” board member Kim Evans Daniel said. “Because the secretary of state has access that we as regular humans do not have access to.” 

As for the other challenges, every building on the Mercer University campus shares the same single address, so the registered students there? The board said they were in the clear.   

Followed by applause, the board voted to deny all three buckets of challenges, though they did have some lingering questions about the logistics of someone knowing where to vote if they were registered at a P.O. Box.  

Afterwards, Sumrall said it’s not like he didn’t see the board’s decision coming.   

Well, actually, they’re able better to check the work than I am because they have access to more than I do,” he said.  

But It turns out Sumrall didn’t make his spreadsheet. Someone he wouldn’t name gave it to him and all he needed to do was put his name on it. What followed was a more than one-hour long meeting of the board, preceded by whatever time was spent documenting the evidence used to debunk Sumrall’s list. 

About a month after Sumrall’s challenge, a retired teacher in Richmond County filed his own Eagle AI voter challenge. It, too, failed.  

Sumrall said he might file more challenges between now and November. And will he put his name on an Eagle AI list again? 

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he said. “Maybe.” 

Even if those fail, they could get people thinking and talking. Maybe even doubting.   

John W. Rick Richards Jr. declined to be interviewed for this story. 

This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GPB a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.

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