By John Schaffner
Georgia’s new Secretary of State Karen Handel addressed the quarterly luncheon of the Buckhead Business Association April 19 and touched on issues ranging from investigations into election fraud and the cost of creating a paper trail for voters at the polls to the state’s 36 licensing boards.
Handel said she had been in office 103 days at the time of the luncheon meeting at 101 West and she said a number of changes had already been made in the office.
She explained to the several hundred Buckhead business people at the lunch that the Secretary of State’s office has several roles: Election oversight, securities fraud, charities, a corporations division, the professional licensing board and cemeteries. “I’m finding more than I ever needed to know about cemeteries,” she said. She also is the official state historian.
“One of the biggest changes that we have made is in the investigative area,” she told the group. The Secretary of State’s office has a fairly broad investigative authority when it comes to elections fraud, securities fraud as well as anything dealing with the licensing board, she explained.
Handel said she brought in the former solicitor general from DeKalb County to be the agency’s chief investigative officer and all the investigators in the agency will work under that person rather than in separate areas as they previously did. The investigative team will be led and managed by someone who understands investigations.
“People in law enforcement can appreciate why that is an important thing to do,” Handel said, “because you certainly don’t need the politicians and bureaucrats engaged in the middle of the fact-finding of an investigation.”
The election fraud issue has traditionally been embroiled in politics, she explained. “For me it wasn’t about being a Republican or a Democrat, it was about what is best for the people of Georgia.”
Handel said there is a fair amount of election fraud in the state, “more than I, even during the campaign, thought existed.” She said the agency has a number of cases underway at this time—one in North Georgia where she said someone likely will go to jail.
She thought it was a joke when she got the call during her second week in office that the DeKalb elections equipment was up on ebay. “Lo and behold it was not a joke. It was real. We have made changes there,” she stated. She said what one county does impacts every county in the state.
With Fulton County, she said there was a call early in April that some voter registration cards had been found in a dumpster. She is sure some of her former colleagues on the Fulton County Commission “were not happy that it had been filed. Oh my gosh, she’s back.”
She said the voter registrations cards are a very serious matter. They are the cards residents fill out to register to vote. They contain name, address, Social Security number. “What we know at this point is there were approximately 75,000 of these cards in the dumpster. We found a second dumpster at an entirely separate location two days later. Candidly, we don’t know how many of these are missing,” she told the group reporting on the investigation to that time.
She said those documents are legally required to be kept on file by the county. Being aware of the sensitivity of the political situation, she asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to do the initial investigation.
She said the first question that must be answered is if there was any willful attempt to have an impact on the June 19 election or future elections.
Once the GBI has completed its investigation, Handel said her office will have to go in and do a full audit of of Fulton County.