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Survey hints at Dems' strategy

CONYERS - A 15-page survey on Cynthia Welch's desk at the Rockdale County Board of Elections and Voter Registration office from the Barrack Obama presidential campaign gives a telling look at Democratic strategy in Georgia.

Welch, the county's supervisor of elections, said last week she had gotten through about half of the questions, which cover every detail of running a local election. Welch and election officials from other counties were quizzed on issues ranging from guaranteeing proper voter registration to provisional ballots and everything in between.

Welch said she was contacted by Morgan and Morgan law firm in Atlanta requesting that she respond to the survey, which is being conducted by the Democratic Party of Georgia for the Obama campaign.

Welch said she had no problem responding to the survey, but was unsure about how the Obama campaign would use the information.

Martin Matheny, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said the party was doing "it's due diligence" to ensure vote tabulations and election procedures were being done correctly. He added that the Democratic National Committee was conducting similar surveys in other states.

Welch said she knew of election supervisors in DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Clarke counties who had also received the survey. Matheny said the party goal was to survey all 159 counties in Georgia.

"Overall, we know that there are many election officials at the local level who do a great job, however, in Georgia our concern rises from what has happened on the state level, particularly with the secretary of state's office."

Matheny explained that the Democrats' biggest concern involved Secretary of State Karen Handel's handing of election issues this year. He cited the case against James R. Powell, the Democratic candidate for the Georgia Public Service Commission, District 4.

Handel, a Republican

elected to office in 2006, ruled before the July 15 primary election that Powell failed to meet the residency requirements for the PSC district where he owns a house in Towns County, because he had received a homestead exemption for a home in Cobb County that is outside the district.

Powell won the Democratic primary in the statewide primary race despite Handel's ruling, which he later appealed. A Fulton County Superior Court judge overturned Handel's ruling. Handel has since filed an appeal with the Georgia Court of Appeals.

There is concern that the dispute will not be settled before Sept. 19, the day when absentee ballots are to be mailed out. Currently, a blank spot appears on the draft ballot between Powell's Republican opponent Lauren "Bubba" McDonald and Libertarian Brandon Givens.

Adam Stone, a political science professor at Georgia Perimeter College, said the surveys offer a couple of advantages to the Obama campaign in a state that has gone solidly Republican since Ronald Reagan.

Stone said he believes it is a strong strategy on the Democrats' part to question the election process given the large influx of new residents to Georgia, of which the majority are black.

Also, because Democrats have not been competitive in Georgia in the past, the Obama campaign has good reason to try to learn more about the election process here, Stone said.

"Obama can ride the tide of registration of black and young voters here to the point that the local election officials are getting inundated and may not get everybody on the rolls," Stone said. "You need to start laying the groundwork, now, if you need to contest elections later."

Stone said the Obama campaign may also be trying to generate enough voter interest here to draw Republican presidential candidate John McCain away from battleground states to shore up his support in what may have once been considered a Republican stronghold.

In the 2004 presidential election, Georgia went with President George Bush over Democratic candidate John Kerry, 58 percent to 42 percent. Rockdale County voters went for Bush by a larger margin of 61 percent to 38 percent.

Stone believes Georgia will remain in the Republican column based just on past performance, but added that Republicans may not have as strong a grasp here as they once did.

"Georgia will still be Republican, but not the same kind of strength as in past elections," he said. "Those days of 58 percent are gone."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.