Garland Favorito, co-founder of VoterGA, addresses a meeting of the Bryan County Republican Party, urging the replacement of Georgia’s voting machines with hand-counted, paper ballots, Ft. McAllister State Park, Richmond Hill, Ga., Saturday, August 12, 2023 Credit: Craig Nelson/The Current

This story was updated on Tuesday, August 15, 2023, at 2:38 p.m. with confirmation of Donald Trump’s latest indictment by Fulton County district attorney and with comment from Bryan County Republicans and a Georgia state lawmaker.

RICHMOND HILL— On a weekend evening in mid-August, a candidate for Bryan County’s most alluring destination might just be the outdoor restaurant at the Fort McAllister marina.

There, boaters, fishermen and other revelers savor the sight of sun sinking over smooth waters of the Ogeechee River and ease into a night of drinking, banter, and laughter.

On Saturday, nearly a hundred Republicans from Bryan County, along with a smattering of others from neighboring counties, had more consequential matters on their minds.

Less from a mile away from the lighthearted crowd at the marina, in a meeting hall deep in the woods of the Fort McAllister State Park, they focused on a weighty proposition: how to save next year’s elections in Georgia, which along with Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin, is considered a “toss-up” state that could decide the outcome of the election.

Their guide to overcome what nearly all in attendance believe is an inadequate, corrupt system incapable of delivering an accurate vote tally in Georgia was Garland Favorito, the conservative elder statesman of the state’s burgeoning election integrity movement.

“I personally believe that there was a lot of fraud in the [2020] election and most people [here] do,” said Karen Hewitt, the chair of the Bryan County Republican Party and organizer of Saturday evening’s event. “People in this county want information.”

‘We shouldn’t be using it’

A retired IT specialist and resident of Roswell, Ga., Favorito is among the leaders of a two-track statewide campaign calling on Gov. Brian Kemp and state lawmakers to replace the state’s current electronic voting system with hand-counted paper ballots before next year’s general election.

Along with other election integrity advocates, Favorito, the co-founder of VoterGA, is barnstorming the state calling for a special session of the Georgia General Assembly to overhaul the state’s voting system.

They’re also urging individual counties to exercise what the advocates say is their right under Georgia law to unilaterally throw out their Dominion voting machines and use paper ballots.

With the presidential election only 14 months away, Favorito is a hot ticket.

He and his wife Tamara arrived at Fort McAllister from Jesup, where just hours earlier, under the title, “How We Must Secure Georgia’s Fishy Elections,” he addressed a gathering sponsored by the ultraconservative South East Georgia Republican Assembly.

As Republicans from across the area finished a paper-plate buffet of cold sandwiches and chocolate cake, Favorito launched into a meticulously detailed, hour-long PowerPoint presentation.

Wearing shorts, running shoes, and a t-shirt bearing, among other slogans, the word “Unplug,” he laid out in detail his case that Georgia’s voting system is unlawful and insecure. For added measure, he lambasted the man overseeing the system, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, as feckless and corrupt.

“The November 2020 election was conducted on a system that the United States District Court said was illegal,” Favorito says, citing the court’s ruling in a lawsuit filed in 2017 against Dominion Voting Systems by the Coalition for a Good Governance and other election security advocates.

“The voting system is broken, and we can’t fix it. We shouldn’t be using it,” he insisted. “But the secretary of state said, ‘Don’t worry about it’.”

Vindicated and reinforced

Garland Favorito, co-founder of VoterGA, addresses a meeting of the Bryan County Republican Party, urging the replacement of Georgia’s voting machines with hand-counted, paper ballots, Fort McAllister State Park, Richmond Hill, Ga., Saturday, August 12, 2023

However detailed — and sometimes numbing — Favorito’s presentation is, there’s no mistaking its impact.

At each speech and interview, he seeks to arm election skeptics with data and arguments for the legislative and political battles ahead.

“You can say all you want that there was fraud [in 2020] but you need facts and figures,” said Hewitt, the chair of the Bryan County Republican Party. Favorito “gives the facts and figures.”

Many of his listeners come out of Favorito’s “fact-and-figures” talk with their convictions about vote fraud vindicated and their contempt for Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, who refused to overturn the results of Georgia’s elections in 2020, reinforced.

For Bryan County Republican Nancy Herzer, who believes America’s electronic voting systems have been penetrated by China, Favorito’s denunciation of electronic voting systems that use some foreign parts strikes a chord.

For Herzer, that makes him the current-day embodiment of a revolutionary war hero.

While former President Donald Trump is Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death!”), she said, Favorito is Paul Revere sounding the alarm, “The Chinese are coming! The Chinese are coming!”

Most importantly, perhaps, they emerge more certain than ever that, in the words of Trump in that now famous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Raffensperger: “There’s no way we lost Georgia.”

In June, at Favorito’s standing-room-only presentation in a conference room at the state GOP convention in Columbus in June moved one Chatham County Republican to tears of gratitude for his efforts.

The same sentiments poured forth on Saturday. Herzer asked Favorito how she and other Trump supporters could become defendants in special prosecutor Jack Smith’s case against the former president in Washington and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ indictment of the former president in Atlanta.

“Can we enter as co-defendants with President Trump and say, ‘Yes, I’m also guilty,’” asked Herzer. “I also believe the election was rigged and a stolen.”

“I’m not actually a lawyer. I’m an IT guy,” Favorito replied. “Everybody thinks I’m a lawyer because I spent a lot of time in court.”

He went on to suggest that she and others who feel the same about Trump retain an attorney to enter them as defendants in the cases pending against him.

A political battle

Despite attacks from Democrats and from the rank-and-file of his own Republican Party, Raffensperger is adamant that his office can deliver a free and fair election next November.

“The vote is going to be fair. It’s going to be accurate,” the secretary of state told reporters following a recent speech to the Savannah Rotary Club. He went on:

“We have a verifiable paper ballot. And we have photo ID for all forms of voting. We’re the first state in the country, the first state that had photo ID for all forms of voting.”

Yet despite his expressed confidence in Georgia’s electronic voting system, Raffensperger seemed to acknowledge in his speech to the Rotary Club that he’s already engaged in a political battle to defend the credibility of the system and next year’s elections, saying to laughter from the audience that while his office administers a myriad of state functions, Georgians he speaks with are largely interested only in one: elections.

“It’s great that y’all came here to hear us talk about securities, charities, professional licensing and, I guess, corporations. And you’ll probably have me touch a little bit on elections.”

‘Y’all know this’

While Favorito frequently notes that VoterGA, the group he co-founded in 2006, is nonpartisan, as required by laws governing non-profit organizations, that designation doesn’t appear to fit Favorito himself.

An article in the New York Times about VoterGA’s success in winning a superior court judge’s ruling for the inspection of portions of Georgia’s 2020 presidential vote for a fourth time describes Favorito as a “political gadfly in Georgia who has lingered on the conspiracy fringe of American politics for decades.” 

As evidence, the Times cited Favorito’s 2002 book that it says questioned the origin of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; his trafficking of what the newspaper described as “unproven theories” about the Kennedy assassination; and his appearance in a video in 2014 arguing that the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution is unconstitutional and therefore, the federal government is illegitimate and should be overthrown.

On Saturday, Favorito’s highly technical account of what he says are the failures of Georgia’s Dominion voting system was punctuated with political asides, starting with what he calls a “pet peeve.”

Noting the nearby Confederate earthworks in Fort McAllister, he said the South had a constitutional right to secede from the Union in pursuit of self-government, and the North had no comparable right to invade it. The analogy to contemporary America is obvious, he said:

“We’re in a war right now. It’s not a war with bullets, like happened back in the 1860s. But it’s a war against free speech. It’s a war against free elections. And it’s a war against the rule of law,” he said.

“It’s not just right and wrong, good and bad. It is a Satanic, evil war that we’re fighting. And that is why the room is full of people because y’all know this.”

Daunting obstacles

As Favorito argues in favor of getting rid of the state’s Dominion voting system, he sidesteps the daunting obstacles that the paper-ballots campaign faces.

To legislate that change would require a special session this fall of the General Assembly. Under the state’s constitution, a special session can be convened by the governor or by three-fifths of the membership of the state House and Senate.

The county-by-county campaign to replace voting machines with paper ballots faces resistance from county attorneys, commissioners, and election boards who prefer the status quo to bucking the secretary of state and becoming ensnared in the inevitable lawsuits.

What happens if a special session isn’t convened? What happens if few, if any, of Georgia’s 159 counties scrap the machines?

Favorito didn’t say.

Furthermore, beyond saying “detailed statutes take precedence over the general statutes,” how does he reconcile the state law that allows counties to replace electronic voting machines if they’re found “impracticable” with another that requires the state’s counties to use the same system?

What if it turns out that the main accomplishment of the paper-ballot campaign is to sow even more doubt over the results of the 2024 election even before they are held, spawning even more cynicism about the state of our institutions, and courting a reprise of the political crisis that engulfed Georgia and the rest of the nation in 2020?

Again, Favorito didn’t say.

Several days later, State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) said a special session this fall was unlikely.

“We [the legislature] don’t have the numbers. And I don’t see the governor calling a special session for this, either.”

To his knowledge, Stephens said, election system legislation wasn’t discussed at a meeting of the House Republican caucus last month at St. Simons.

Still, “it’s something we’re going to delve into to make sure that elections are secure and that everybody’s vote is counted” when the legislature gets back to business in January.

Election guru

Whatever else one might say about Favorito, who worked for SunTrust Bank for 13 years as an ECommerce analyst and architect, it’s clear he’s having his moment in the sun and relishing it.

He’s a beneficiary, as well as a catalyst, for the changing meaning of “election integrity.” Whereas once it was a politically neutral phrase invoked by Democrats and Republicans and civil libertarians of all stripes, in Georgia it’s now largely the political domain of far-right Republicans who now hold sway in the state GOP, most of whom believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

The result is that for the almost exclusively Republican crowds that flock to hear him these days, Favorito comes as close as anyone in Georgia to being an election guru.

After his presentation on Saturday, his listeners came forward gushing praise, their faces glowing with gratitude and clutching cash in their hands to donate to VoterGA.

Favorito’s schedule is hectic. He was forced to cancel an appearance on the Isle of Hope Baptist Church in Chatham County on Sunday because he and his wife had to return home to Roswell — he was scheduled Monday to be in a Fulton County court to testify in a school board election case.

A day later, they were traveling to Springfield, Missouri, where Favorito is a featured speaker at the two-day “Election Crime Bureau Summit” organized by MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell. There, “the plan to save our country will be revealed,” claims Lindell, a prominent promoter of claims that voting machines were manipulated to steal the 2020 presidential election. Other featured speakers include Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Flynn and Lou Dobbs — all Trump loyalists.

History’s view

As the last of the chairs and tables in the Fort McAllister meeting hall were folded and stacked, Favorito lingered, scooping up what’s left of the chocolate cake. He was asked by a reporter two questions that didn’t get posed during the question-and-answer period following his presentation.

Is Joe Biden the legitimate president of the United States?

He said he can’t speak for what happened outside Georgia but added: “I know he didn’t win Georgia’s electoral votes.”

And asked if Georgia’s voting system delivered an accurate vote tally in 2020 and will deliver one in 2024, he said that “unless we can see the ballots,” he “doesn’t know.”

Favorito’s confidence that Biden didn’t’ prevail in Georgia in 2020 — and his uncertainty that a free and fair vote is possible in 2024 — seem apt context for what promises to be a tumultuous election next year in Georgia.

The responsibility for how next year’s election unfolds in Georgia falls heavily on him as well as on Raffensperger, as heavily as the sultry August air near the Ogeechee River:

Will history view Favorito, the outsider, as a man who helped restore free and fair elections in Georgia, as his listeners on Saturday at Fort McAllister fondly hope?

Or will he be remembered as a man who helped usher Georgia to the same abyss where it stood in the weeks following the 2020 election, when America’s constitutional order was more imperiled than at other time since the Civil War?

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...