Georgia voters were waiting with great anticipation on Monday for a scheduled 3:00 pm press conference after an announcement that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger would address a litany of questions raised by President Donald Trump on the conduct of the November elections.
Instead he backed out and sent his former voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling to address the media on the critical issue of election integrity.
Raffensberger had created a firestorm on Sunday after leaking a heavily-edited version of a call with the president Saturday afternoon.
He accused Trump of ordering him “to find” 11,779 votes, even though they were joined on the call by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and several lawyers, including attorney Cleta Mitchell and Georgia-based attorney Kurt Hilbert.
Raffensperger was also joined by his office’s general counsel, Ryan Germany, and Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs.
The transcript showed that the president was challenging nearly 400,000 votes that he alleged were unlawfully counted.
Why are taxpayers footing Raffensperger’s salary when he outsources so many of his duties to Sterling, the state’s current chief operating officer and chief financial officer? Less than a week ago he was responsible for overseeing Georgia’s voting system.
According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, Sterling was employed by the state for $114,000 a year until the end of 2019.
He negotiated a deal as president of Sterling Innovative Solutions to work as an “independent contractor” for $200,000 per year, a whopping $86,000 increase in income.
Sterling was awarded a contract by the secretary of state’s office by circumventing the competitive bidding process, using an emergency procurement process instead, the deputy secretary of state told the AJC.
Fuchs said the government needed someone to manage the quick installation of the voting equipment in time for this year’s elections, which would add a paper ballot to Georgia elections for the first time in 18 years.
Sterling’s stint as project manager, without benefits or health insurance, started in November 2019, when he supervised the purchase and rollout of the state’s new voting equipment from Dominion Voting Systems.
His contract expired last Thursday, and he seamlessly returned to his old position in the secretary of state’s office in January. The AJC obtained details of the peculiar arrangement through the Georgia Open Records Act.
Did Governor Bryan Kemp privatize the administration of the state’s elections and its voting apparatus without the consent of voters and what are the implications of such actions for the manner in which elections will be conducted?
Voters are asking why the former Sandy Springs city councilman and business consultant’s company has no other employees and doesn’t do business with any other client besides the secretary of state’s office.
Why was oversight of the state’s voting machines managed by a third party?
Fuchs explained that Sterling’s services were obtained at a bargain price, a boon for Georgia taxpayers.
Election officials were struggling to find a project manager to handle the state’s contract with Dominion and hiring engineering consultants or military logistics would have cost between $500,000 to $1 million.
“With a deadline to deliver over 30,000 voting machines before the primary election, Sterling became a contractor, paid from a $150 million bond for the voting system state lawmakers approved. The secretary of state’s office hired another contractor to take on the financial management duties of Sterling’s old job,” the AJC reported.
“Sterling became a contractor because the money was available from the bond, and he couldn’t handle the heavy workload of both his former and new duties, Fuchs said.”
The lucrative Dominion voting system procurement was the largest election equipment purchase in United States history, costing $133 million so far but still $17 million under its 150 million dollar budget. Sterling was an integral part of negotiating the multimillion–dollar deal, including thousands of voting machines, scanners and voter check-in tablets.
Investigative Reporter Paul Sperry reported on Twitter Monday that the governor’s former chief of staff, Jared S. Thomas, left the secretary of state’s office and became a paid lobbyist for Dominion, helping it land the contract to run Georgia’s elections at an initial cost of about $107 million when the state purchased the voting system despite security concerns. State records show that Thomas was hired by Dominion salesman Barry Herron, according to Sperry.
The state is also paying licensing costs for the next 10 years, relieving county governments of the expense.
The quirky arrangement between Raffensperger’s office and Sterling is raising many eyebrows in the Peach State.