Presidential candidates text, call Ga. voters at risk of purge

Riley Bunch | The Valdosta Daily TimesPresidential candidates Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar take a selfie during FairFight's phone bank event at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Nov. 21.

ATLANTA — When voters at risk of being purged from voter rolls received a text Thursday about the threat, it could have been from a Democratic presidential candidate.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang joined forces the morning after their presidential debate to take on voter suppression in Georgia. FairFight — an organization started by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to promote voting rights — gathered the White House hopefuls.

The four candidates made calls and sent texts during the phone bank event to some of the more than 300,000 voters at risk of being purged from voting rolls ahead of the 2020 election.

In a scene quite different from the debate at Tyler Perry Studios not even 12 hours earlier, Booker, Buttigieg and Klobuchar snapped selfies and engaged in a friendly contest of who could reach the most voters — not unlike their contest to win votes in the Peach State that’s now being dubbed a “battleground state.”

Booker made his trademark "dad jokes," Klobuchar brought her husband for an extra set of hands and Buttigieg said "boom" when he hit 100 texts sent.

Yang joined the efforts later in the morning.

The purge of voting rolls by the Secretary of State’s office has caused cries of voter suppression, while the state argues the cuts are part of a federally mandated voter roll clean-up. Voters at risk of losing their registration haven’t been active at the polls for many years — Georgia is one of a few states with the “use it or lose it” rule.

The event, held in a room in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta — where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor — didn’t go without a visit from FairFight founder Abrams later in the day. Abrams has held a variety of events addressing voter suppression this week surrounding the debate.

During their stop in Atlanta for the fifth presidential debate, nearly all candidates have said that absent voter suppression, Abrams would have won the 2018 race for the governor’s seat.

Candidates used a computer program to send dozens of texts to voters at risk of being purged — some responding they had moved away. When voters responded they wanted to make sure they are removed from the purge list, candidates interacted with them and helped them sift through their voter information.

Later in the afternoon, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger warned voters against “sharing personal information with untrusted inquires,” an attempt to steer voters away from FairFight’s contact.

The office said it had received reports from voters that text messages from an unknown party were “trying to convince them their voter registration is about to be cancelled.”

“Do not share information with anyone you do not know,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “If you have questions about your voter registration status, it is easy to check without sharing your personal information with any outside parties.”

The announcement included a draft text from the FairFight phone bank.

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