Updated at 10:40 a.m. Tuesday
On the morning after the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta, presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker all stopped by a phone bank organized by the group Fair Fight Action.
For a few minutes, they helped send out text messages to thousands of people who were on a list to be removed from the voting rolls next month. Many of those Georgians are being taken off because they haven’t voted since before the 2012 general election.
The outreach effort ignited a public relations battle between the secretary of state’s office and one of its most outspoken critics. As the text messages were hitting phones, the secretary of state’s office said it got complaints.
“Our office was contacted by multiple people that had gotten a text message from somebody who identified themselves with a group,” Georgia elections director Chris Harvey said.
The messages, which came from Fair Fight Action, offered to look up the person’s voter status. But to do so, the messages also asked for a date of birth and home county.
This prompted the secretary of state’s office to send out a press release warning people not to give out personal information to “untrusted” inquiries. It says people can check their status themselves online.
Harvey denies the press release was meant to undermine Fair Fight’s efforts.
“I could write anything in a text,” Harvey said. “‘This is from anybody. This is from the FBI. This is from the president…’ and a person has absolutely no way to know if that’s accurate or not. And that’s concerning.”
Fair Fight said while the information needed to check voter status is personal, it’s also publicly available. CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo argues the press release was an attempt to undermine her group.
“I would encourage the secretary of state’s staff instead of wasting time on press releases like that to get busy on the machine roll out that’s supposed to happen in March,” she said.
Groh-Wargo is talking about the new voting machines the state has to implement statewide next spring.
It’s the latest dust-up between Fair Fight and the secretary of state’s office.
Fair Fight Action is a group founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
The two sides remain in a legal battle over the way Georgians will vote in 2020, and who will get to stay on the voter rolls.
Clarification: Presidential candidate Andrew Yang also attended the Georgia voter outreach event on Nov. 21. He arrived at the event later than the candidates mentioned in this story.