Northwest Georgia district attorney calls for more information to prosecute noncitizen voting registration cases

Some Georgia district attorneys are concerned they haven't received sufficient evidence to investigate noncitizen voting cases referred to them by the secretary of state's office, even though the issue is a centerpiece of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's re-election campaign.

The announcement of the effort to prosecute noncitizens attempting to register to vote first came from Raffensperger's office in mid-April.

According to the office, 1,634 cases of noncitizens attempting to register to vote were discovered when officials completed the first citizenship audit of the voter rolls in the state's history at the beginning of April, a release from the secretary of state's office stated at the time.

The audit found that none of those noncitizens were allowed to cast a ballot in Georgia.

(READ MORE: Voting registration cases announced; Stacey Abrams files elections lawsuit)

Most of the attempted registrations, 80.7%, had occurred since 2016, the release stated, but some cases dated back to 1997. The most recent was Feb. 24. Three Atlanta-area counties - DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett - had the most cases. Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Chris Arnt said his list had three or four names on it. Arnt's circuit includes Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties.

At the time, Arnt said his office was waiting for case files from the state. But now, more than a month later, Arnt said he and the other district DAs have received no investigative information or case files - just a list of names on a spreadsheet.

"We recently had a meeting of all the DAs in the state," Arnt said by email. "It seemed that nearly everyone who attended the meeting also received the same letter and [a] list of names."

Arnt said the limited information is unusual, contrasting the noncitizen situation with a voter fraud his office is preparing to prosecute.

"We normally get a full investigative file," Arnt wrote. "We have a voter fraud case in Walker County that we are getting ready to indict where they did an excellent job of investigating the case and provided a full investigative case file."

An inquiry to the secretary of state's office about the district attorneys' concerns did not receive a response.

In the Floyd Judicial Circuit, which includes Floyd County, Clerk Laura Casey said the office has received no noncitizen attempted voter registration cases from the secretary of state. An inquiry to the district attorney's office of the Conasuaga Judicial District was not returned. That district comprises the northwest Georgia counties of Murray and Whitfield.

On Thursday, the secretary of state's office announced an automatic citizenship status check of all voter-registration applicants tagged as potential noncitizens by the Department of Driver Services. About eight out of 10 new Georgia voters apply for registration automatically when they obtain or update their driver's license, according to a news release.

As part of the voter registration process, those applicants will be put through a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database.

"This is a win for election security and integrity in Georgia," Raffensperger said in the news release, adding that noncitizens attempting to register to vote will also be investigated and prosecuted.

Referenced in multiple recent social media posts from the secretary of state's office, the noncitizen voting prosecution effort received a lot of feedback on social media. Some saw the effort as a nonissue or "fear mongering" about immigrants for votes during campaign season, others as a distraction from the 2020 election investigations.

Monday's Republican secretary of state candidate debate, hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and posted on Georgia Public Broadcasting's website, was mainly focused on elections and election security, and Raffensperger specifically brought up noncitizen voting.

Answering the first question of the debate, candidate and former U.S. representative for Georgia's 10th Congressional District Jody Hice said the 2020 election was an "absolute disaster."

Raffensperger responded, saying Hice was lying and that his office conducted more elections investigations than ever and had an absentee ballot voting task force to guard against fraud.

"But here's the real issue that we're facing right now," Raffensperger said before he ran out of time and was cut off by the moderator, "noncitizen voting."

The next question from Hayley Mason, a journalist from Atlanta's CBS46, went to Raffensperger. She asked that since he said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud found in Georgia's elections, why his campaign was centered on stopping voter fraud, specifically non-citizen voting.

Raffensperger responded, "I'm the only one on this stage fighting noncitizen voting. I'm making sure that only American citizens are on our voter rolls and only American citizens are voting in our elections."

He referenced his citizenship check of the voting rolls.

"Over a week ago, Jody Hice said, quote, 'noncitizen voting was not his highest priority,'" Raffensperger said. "It's my highest priority."

On the campaign trail and at his campaign website, Raffensperger stated that he believes the United States needs a constitutional amendment to prevent noncitizens from voting.

Arnt said he plans to follow up with the secretary of state's office and request that officials provide investigation files so Arnt can evaluate whether there's sufficient evidence to proceed with a case. He also said he couldn't make public the list of names on the list given to him by the office because they are "suspects in possible criminal activity."

(READ MORE: A target of Trump's ire, Raffensperger fights for re-election)

In an emailed response, Hice wrote that the noncitizen voting issue is a distraction from Raffensensperger's "terrible tenure in office."

A conviction for attempting to register to vote illegally is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine, Raffensperger said in a radio interview on WDUN, a North Georgia news talk station.

DeKalb led the state's counties with the most attempts to register by noncitizens, according to Raffensperger's office, with 345, followed by Fulton with 275, and 221 from Gwinnett.

Of Georgia's 159 counties, attempts to register by noncitizens came from 88, the April release from the secretary of state reported.

Republicans also on the ballot for the May 24 party primary are former Probate Judge Torri Hudson and David Belle Isle, former mayor of Alpharetta.

On the Democrat ballot are John Eaves, former Fulton County Commission chairman; former Milledgeville Mayor and former state Sen. Floyd Griffin, state Rep. Bee Nguyen; and cyber security professional Michael Owens. Researcher and former Marine Dee Dawkins-Haigler is seeking the office as a primary write-in candidate.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at awilkins@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.