Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says that 1,000 people may have voted twice in the state's messy pandemic primary elections this year, adding that the state will investigate for potential voter fraud.
“We have found potentially 1000 cases of double voting here in Georgia,” the Republican secretary of state said in a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Let me be clear: it is a felony to double vote in Georgia, and we prosecute.”
Georgia held two primary elections, first in June and then a runoff in August. Raffensperger said it appeared that 1,000 voters who voted by mail also voted in person.
The alleged fraud is not yet confirmed and all states have mechanisms to prevent double ballots from being counted; claims of double voting are more common than proven double voting, as inaccurate voter rolls or clerical errors by election workers can create the appearance of double voting.
Georgia’s primary election in June was marked by extremely long lines and broken voting machines, with many voters heading to the polls because their absentee ballots never arrived.
A group of voting rights advocates in Georgia, who recently formed what they're calling a Voter Empowerment Task Force, criticized Raffensperger for both the mismanaged primary and today's announcement.
"Georgia’s failed top elections official has decided to push a right-wing narrative spreading across the country rather than focusing on protecting the Constitutional rights of every Georgian," the group said in a statement provided to NBC News, urging voters to make a plan to ensure their votes are counted.
Republicans including President Donald Trump have spent much of this year claiming that mail voting creates opportunities for fraud, despite the fact that voter fraud is incredibly rare. Georgia's investigation will surely fuel anxieties around mail voting, despite the fact that numerous past investigations into alleged double voting in previous election have not found substantive fraud.
Last week, Trump encouraged voters in North Carolina to mail ballots and then vote in person, claiming it would test the integrity of the system. (Successfully doing so would be illegal and election officials say such efforts would create headaches for poll workers.)
Trump then broadened his appeal, writing on Twitter that all of his supporters should mail a ballot and then go to polling places and ask poll workers to verify their ballots have been received, and if not, cast an in-person vote.
Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who studies election data, said explosive fraud allegations like this one historically don't pan out.
"I can't think of a single time where someone went out there with these allegations and law enforcement came back and said 'yup, every one of those people fraudulently voted,'" he said.
McDonald said that law enforcement investigations typically return minuscule numbers of credible cases.
"Once they are referred to law enforcement... those initial eye popping numbers turn out to be something you have to squint at," he said.
In his press conference, Raffensperger insisted that voters had intended to “game the system.”
Pressed for evidence of voter intent, he said there had been reports of a voter bragging about voting twice. The secretary said the state would be investigating all 1000 potential cases and would report back on whether any cases result in charges.