Georgia Democrats often accuse their rivals of shenanigans at the polls. But this time, Democrats come armed with what they say is convincing proof Republicans are trying to depress turnout.
Several northwest Georgia Democrats received mailers on Tuesday advertising a Jan. 17 vote in the contest to replace Republican Charlie Bethel, who was tapped by Gov. Nathan Deal for a judgeship. The problem, though, is that the election will be held on Jan. 10.
The mailing originated from Joseph Brannan, the GOP chair of the 2nd Congressional District - a vast southwest Georgia territory on the other side of the state. He said it was an honest mistake. Local Democrats aren't buying it.
"I'm really dumbfounded by it," said Cheryl Phipps, the treasurer for the Whitfield County Democratic Party. "Either they are really inept, or they are trying to lead voters astray. Because I can't really see otherwise how they would do this. I just can't see anyone making a mistake like this."
The runoff pits former Whitfield County GOP chairman Chuck Payne against Debby Peppers, an ex-county commissioner running without party affiliation who is supported by Democrats. After the two emerged as the leading vote-getters after a crowded primary this month, Democrats hope that Peppers can squeak by in a low-turnout affair.
Brannan said neither of the candidates or their campaigns were aware of the mailers, which urged voters to "Send northwest Georgia values to the Georgia state Senate." He said the mailers weren't targeting Democrats, but rather Republicans likely to cast early ballots. He took responsibility for the wrong date.
"Due to my oversight in review, the final mailer included the wrong election date. The error was unintentional and a new mailer is being issued Wednesday with the correct date to the same distribution list," he said. "It is with my sincerest apologies this mailer was distributed with incorrect information."
Phipps, among several Democrats who said they received the mailers, said something more nefarious could be afoot.
"The flyer itself doesn't really mention a party affiliation. It doesn't mention the party or the candidate," she said. "It does seem like a subtle way to put out misinformation and confuse people."
Michael Jablonski, the attorney for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement Wednesday there were still more questions than answers.
“It is absolutely inconceivable that a congressional district chair could mistakenly disseminate an inaccurate election date on a paid mailer after—one would assume—review of a proof sent by the firm," he said. "This just doesn’t add up, and Georgia Democrats are investigating sanctions for intentional voter suppression.”
Here's the corrected mailer: