‘It has to stop’: Top Georgia election official slams Trump, senators over fraud claims

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s election system implementation manager, gives an update on the presidential election recount on Nov. 18, 2020. (Secretary of State video)

Georgia’s top election manager ripped into President Donald Trump Tuesday, as well as U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, for not doing more to tamp down unfounded claims of voting fraud after a local election worker was threatened with a noose.

Gabriel Sterling, the state’s election implementation manager, called on the Republican president and Georgia’s GOP senators to “step up” after Trump supporters took video of a 20-year-old election-system contractor, threatened him with a noose on Twitter and tracked down home addresses for members of his family.

“I can’t begin to explain the level of anger that I have right now over this,” Sterling, who is a Republican, said of the recent threat. “And every American, every Georgian, Republican and Democrat alike, should have that same level of anger.”

Sterling also denounced threats that have been made against his supervisor, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, including “sexualized threats” sent to Raffensperger’s wife’s cell phone.

“This is our elections,” Sterling said. “This is the backbone of our democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much.”

Raffensperger and his family have been threatened several times recently including when someone broke into a home owned by a family member, his office said. Caravans of Trump supporters waving flags from pickup trucks have also been cruising around and honking horns in Raffensperger’s neighborhood.

On Monday, Raffensperger said certain people are misleading Trump and his supporters with “fantastic claims” of election fraud aimed at “exploiting [their] emotions.”

A top deputy in Raffensperger’s office, Sterling has held multiple news conferences in recent weeks as state and county election officials worked through two separate recounts of the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. The second recount is on track to wrap up by midnight Wednesday.

Certified election results show Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia by 12,670 votes, a margin that narrowed by around 1,500 votes after uncounted ballots were located during the state’s first recount. That margin is not likely to shrink enough to reverse the final outcome, Sterling has said.

That has not stopped Trump from taking to Twitter repeatedly in recent days to slam Raffensperger and pressure Gov. Brian Kemp to intervene in the president’s favor. Attorneys allied with Trump have filed federal lawsuits seeking to de-certify the election that contain claims echoing many of his mail-in ballot and voting-machine fraud allegations.

In an impassioned plea, Sterling on Tuesday urged Trump to back off the divisive language he’s used to spread doubt about the election results while the second recount continues and lawsuits wind through court, adding: “Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia.”

“Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence,” Sterling said. “Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. And it’s not right.”

Sterling also lashed out at Perdue and Loeffler, both staunch Trump supporters who called for Raffensperger’s resignation last month and have refused to back off that position. Their push for Raffensperger to resign prompted Trump to describe Georgia’s secretary of state as “an enemy of the people.”

On Tuesday, Sterling said those actions by the Trump, Loeffler and Perdue worked to incite violence and helped open a “floodgate of crap” related to fraud conspiracies and threats.

“We need you to step up,” Sterling said, singling out Perdue and Loeffler by name. “And if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some. It has to stop.”

Campaign spokespersons for Loeffler and Perdue said both senators condemn violence but added they also would continue pushing for “accountability” of Georgia’s election system.

“Like many officials, as someone who has been the subject of threats, of course Senator Loeffler condemns violence of any kind. How ridiculous to even suggest otherwise,” said Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson.

“We also condemn inaction and lack of accountability in our election system process – and won’t apologize for calling it out.”

Perdue and Loeffler are competing against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock in runoff elections set for Jan. 5.

Georgia Senate to hold hearings on 2020 election ‘processes’, ‘improprieties’

Top Republican state lawmakers announced Tuesday they plan to hold hearings later this week on the integrity of Georgia’s election system and to take testimony on alleged “elections improprieties” stemming from the 2020 general election.

Back-to-back hearings have been scheduled for Thursday by the Senate Government Oversight Committee to “evaluate the election process” and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee to field election-impropriety claims.

The two meetings come as officials in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office continue to dismiss claims of widespread voter fraud by allies of President Donald Trump, who certified results show lost the Nov. 3 presidential election to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia by 12,670 votes.

In particular, Trump’s allies have homed in on how Georgia verifies signatures on the roughly 1.3 million mail-in ballots cast in the presidential election and have urged Raffensperger’s office to launch an audit aimed at matching those signatures with registration information.

Raffensperger’s office has signaled it is unlikely to do so without a court order, though the secretary of state has called for the General Assembly to pass legislation that would toughen up Georgia’s voter ID laws. A handful of federal lawsuits challenging the election’s certification are still winding through the courts.

Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, have also called for passing tighter voter ID rules during the legislative session that starts next month.

State election officials have highlighted claims of individual voting fraud or irregularities as part of more than 250 ongoing investigations as well as management stumbles from a few local election boards like Fulton County. Raffensperger’s office has also launched investigations into groups allegedly attempting to register out-of-state voters ahead of the U.S. Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5.

None of those issues are likely to overturn the ultimate outcome of the presidential election, state officials have said. Raffensperger’s office expects a second recount of the more-than 5 million ballots cast in the presidential election to wrap up by midnight Wednesday.

The state Senate meetings were announced jointly by the chamber’s majority caucus leaders including President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, R-Gainesville; Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton; Majority Whip Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega; Majority Caucus Chairman John Kennedy, R-Macon; Majority Caucus Vice Chairman Larry Walker III, R-Perry; and Majority Caucus Secretary Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge.

Georgia election officials dismiss fraud claims amid Trump attacks, lawsuits

Georgia officials continued batting back claims of election fraud Monday as a second recount of the presidential election neared completion and President Donald Trump attacked one of his biggest supporters in the state, Gov. Brian Kemp.

A federal lawsuit filed by a Trump supporter to halt the election results and re-verify absentee-ballot signatures also moved forward Monday, with a judge ordering officials in Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties not to tamper with data on voting machines before a hearing can be held later this week.

Amid legal challenges, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has faced attacks from fellow Republicans and threats from Trump allies in recent days, on Monday denounced “dishonest actors” for spreading “massive amounts of misinformation” about Georgia’s election integrity since the Nov. 3 election.

“There are those who are exploiting the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths [and] misinformation,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said at a news conference Monday. “And, frankly, they are misleading the president as well, apparently.”

Raffensperger’s comments came hours after Trump took to Twitter Monday to call Kemp “the hapless Governor of Georgia” and pressure him to force election officials to match mail-in voters’ signatures on the envelopes of their absentee ballots with registration signatures as part of the ongoing recount.

“Georgia Republicans are angry, all Republicans are angry,” said Trump. “Get it done!”

Trump also said over the weekend he was “ashamed” to have endorsed Kemp in the Athens Republican’s run for governor in 2018, marking a major rebuke of one of his strongest allies in the state shortly before the president is scheduled to hold a rally in Georgia on Saturday.

Kemp’s office said the governor supports scrutinizing a sample of absentee-ballot signatures for any irregularities, but that state law bars him “from interfering in elections” or taking control over oversight actions done by Raffensperger, who is an elected official.

Election officials in Georgia have repeatedly dismissed claims from Trump and his allies of widespread absentee-ballot signature fraud as unfounded, noting the push to match signatures again without a court order is unlikely since mail-in voters’ signatures were verified before the initial count on Nov. 3.

Official election results that were certified last week show Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia by 12,670 votes, a lead that was trimmed by around 1,500 votes earlier this month after officials conducted a hand recount of more than 5 million ballots cast in the state’s presidential contest.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed so far by Trump allies seeking to force election officials to re-verify voter signatures statewide and halt the election results from reaching the Electoral College.

One suit, filed by Atlanta attorney and vocal Trump supporter Lin Wood, was rejected by a federal judge on grounds it contained scant evidence of any election fraud and would more likely result in disenfranchising millions of Georgia voters. Wood’s attorneys have appealed the ruling.

The second suit, filed late last week by Texas attorney Sidney Powell, accuses Georgia’s new voting equipment of “ballot-stuffing” that allegedly mishandled 96,600 absentee ballots due partly to being compromised by Venezuelan and other foreign actors.

“Georgia’s election officials and poll workers exacerbated and helped, whether knowingly or unknowingly, the [voting] system to carry out massive voter manipulation by refusing to observe statutory safeguards for absentee ballots,” Powell’s lawsuit claims.

A hearing has been set for Friday to determine whether Powell’s legal team can inspect voting machines in Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties.

Georgia’s chief election manager, Gabriel Sterling, blasted many of the claims found in those lawsuits and circulating on social-media channels as “insanities, fever dreams [and] made-up Internet cabal.”

“It’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole,” Sterling said Monday. “Every time we knock down one, there’s a crazier one.”

Still, Sterling noted election officials have launched investigations in some counties stemming from specific fraud and irregularity complaints, including one claim that more absentee ballots were counted than there were envelopes in Gwinnett County.

In all, Sterling and Raffensperger said officials are working through 250 investigations into election issues opened since the start of 2020, though none so far have suggested any evidence of widespread fraud capable of changing the presidential election’s outcome in Georgia.

Raffensperger’s office is now focusing on allegations of groups attempting to register people from outside Georgia and those temporarily staying in the state like college students for the U.S. Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5.

On Monday, Raffensperger highlighted four groups under investigation for allegedly sending mail-in ballot applications to voters in New York City, encouraging out-of-state college students to swap residences for the election and trying to register a dead Alabama woman to vote in the Georgia runoffs.

“This office will continue to take steps to protect the voting rights of the legally registered voters in this state,” Raffensperger said.

Georgia lawmakers seek special session for voter ID changes before Senate runoffs

Certified results from the 2020 general election saw President-elect Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump in Georgia by 12,670 votes. (Photo by Beau Evans)

A group of Republican state lawmakers are calling for the General Assembly to hold a special session ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections for U.S. Senate to consider changes to Georgia’s voter ID laws amid testiness over the recent presidential contest.

State election officials have said a second recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election that began Tuesday likely will not include inspecting signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, which allies of President Donald Trump have demanded since his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia.

In Georgia, county election officials verify mail-in voters by matching the signatures they are required to make on ballot envelopes with their signatures on file from when they registered. The envelopes are then separated from the actual ballots to protect voter privacy, making it tough to re-match those signatures later.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office has repeatedly said state and local officials have found no evidence so far of any widespread fraud in this month’s general election. Raffensperger has, however, advocated for tightening the state’s voter ID laws.

Gov. Brian Kemp has not said whether he would convene the legislature before the regular session on Jan. 11. His office responded Tuesday with a prior statement from the governor, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, saying they “share the same concerns many Georgians have about the integrity of our elections.”

If a special session is convened, lawmakers should consider creating a notary or photo ID requirement for voting by mail and hold committee hearings on “any evidence of voter fraud,” four Republican state senators who called for the session said in a news release.

“As the [first recount] has shown, we have structural issues with the implementation and proper execution of our ballot counting procedures,” read a joint statement from Sens. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming; William Ligon, R-Brunswick; Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta; and Burt Jones, R-Jackson.

A statewide hand recount that wrapped up last week confirmed Biden’s win over Trump in Georgia by 12,670 votes out of a record-setting roughly 5 million ballots cast in the election amid a surge of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump has not yet conceded defeat and his allies in Georgia have homed in on the process for verifying voter signatures on absentee ballots as problematic not only for the presidential election, but also potentially for the intensely watched U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

Georgia’s two Senate runoff races are poised for high turnout due to their unique importance. Wins by both Democratic candidates over the Republican incumbent senators would give Democrats control over the White House and Congress for at least the next two years.

Many Georgia Republican leaders have pointed to roughly 5,000 ballots that went uncounted in the initial election results but were discovered during the hand recount that wrapped up last week as proof of problems with the election system. Those ballots trimmed Biden’s lead over Trump by 1,900 votes.

State election officials had said prior to the recount that they expected to find some discrepancies from the original count, but stressed also any additional recount or effort to again verify signatures would not likely change the ultimate outcome of the presidential election.

Even so, among those pushing to verify signatures and change the state voter ID law is Kemp, who last week called the discovery of thousands of ballots during the hand recount “simply unacceptable.”

However, the governor also recently railed against “baseless attacks [on Georgia’s election system] that are absolutely absurd.”

“These are ridiculous,” Kemp said at a news conference Tuesday. “They only seek to breed fear, create confusion and sow discord among our citizens.

“We must ignore those that want to divide us and find a way to overcome the challenges that we all face together.”

Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoffs is Dec. 7.

Georgia set for second election recount, unlikely to probe mail-in signatures

Certified results from the 2020 general election saw President-elect Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump in Georgia by 12,670 votes. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Georgia election officials are gearing up for another recount of the roughly 5 million ballots cast in the state’s presidential election this month following a request over the weekend by President Donald Trump’s campaign.

State law allows Trump, who lost Georgia by fewer than 13,000 votes to President-elect Joe Biden, to seek a recount due to the narrow margin. The election results were certified last Friday after a statewide audit of every ballot that included a hand recount.

The upcoming recount will run ballots through scanners rather than by hand, said Gabriel Sterling, the election systems manager in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. It will start at 9 a.m. Tuesday and must wrap up by the end of Dec. 2, posing challenges for a few counties like Fulton poised to hold local elections on Dec. 1.

The process will not involve inspecting or matching signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, which Trump’s allies have called for to weed out any potential instances of mail-in voter fraud – though so far no evidence has been presented of such widespread fraud in Georgia.

State law and privacy concerns currently bar the close level of signature scrutiny that Trump and his Republican supporters in Georgia want, Sterling said at a news conference Monday. He also noted the initial verification steps were open for both political parties to watch, but neither did so.

Absent specific fraud evidence or a court order, Sterling said state officials see no recourse to inspect signatures on absentee ballot envelopes at this point.

“We anticipate that we will continue to follow the law and follow the process as we have done from the beginning,” Sterling said. “So far, we have not seen anything widespread.”

Amid various fraud claims, Republican allies of Trump have homed in on mail-in signatures as the best way to test the election’s integrity as the president still refuses to concede defeat. Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and the Georgia Republican Party have all pushed for more comprehensive signature verification.

“We as [Georgia Republicans] will never give up on the fight to make sure that every lawful vote is counted and every unlawful vote rejected,” state GOP Chairman David Shafer wrote Monday on Twitter.

But moves to scrap absentee ballots by inspecting envelope signatures could face tough prospects in Georgia after a federal judge last week rejected a restraining order sought by a Trump ally to halt the election’s certification until signatures could be verified further.

Loeffler’s and Perdue’s Democratic runoff opponents, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, have slammed the two Republican senators for sowing distrust in Georgia’s election system despite the election results’ certification last week.

Meanwhile, Raffensperger has urged state lawmakers to tighten Georgia law on verifying signature matches when the General Assembly next convenes, which currently would be the regular legislative session set for mid-January. The governor so far has not called for a special session before the runoffs.

Mail-in voting looks to continue taking center stage in Georgia with runoff elections for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats that have drawn intense interest across the country scheduled to be held on Jan. 5.

Nearly 800,000 absentee-ballot applications already have been sent out for the runoffs, meaning next month will likely see similar mail-in voting numbers to the 1.3 million absentee ballots cast in the Nov. 3 elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ryan Germany, general counsel in Raffensperger’s office.

Georgia’s two Senate runoff races are poised for high turnout due to their unique importance. Wins by both Democratic candidates over the Republican incumbent senators would give Democrats control over the White House and Congress for at least the next two years.

Ahead of the runoffs, State Election Board members on Monday extended temporary rules put in place for the Nov. 3 elections that allow counties to install absentee-ballot drop boxes and scan absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

Both the drop boxes and early scanning helped counties manage the unprecedented flood of mail-in ballots for the general election and look to do so again for the runoffs, Germany said Monday.

“That is something I think all voters in Georgia will appreciate,” Germany told members of the election board.

The election board on Monday did not take up a proposed rule aimed at cracking down on potential out-of-state voters who may try to register to vote in Georgia for the runoffs amid recent rumors and reports of non-resident voters possibly attempting to do so.

Republican leaders including Shafer and Collins have pressed Raffensperger to clamp down harder on voter residency requirements, while largely Democratic-aligned observers argue tougher rules could disenfranchise poorer Georgians and those in more fragile living situations.

Germany said Raffensperger’s and Attorney General Chris Carr’s offices have agreed to send out an official bulletin advising county elections boards on specifics of Georgia’s residency requirements and verifications, rather than pass any new rules on the matter.

“We think that will accomplish the purpose that we want,” Germany said.

Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoffs is Dec. 7.

Kemp, Raffensperger certify Georgia election results and Biden win

Certified election results show Biden won Georgia while Republican lawmakers held the General Assembly. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Gov. Brian Kemp signed off on certifying Georgia’s presidential election results Friday following a hand recount of a record-breaking number of ballots that confirmed President-elect Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump in the state by a slim 12,670 votes.

The Nov. 3 election results certified Friday by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also confirmed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff captured enough votes to force a runoff with incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue.

Additionally, the certified results showed Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux flipped a suburban Atlanta area congressional seat, while state Republican lawmakers will maintain control over both chambers in the Georgia General Assembly for the crucial redistricting process this summer.

Georgia’s presidential election has been fraught with controversy for nearly three weeks as Trump’s allies hurled claims of voter fraud. The weeklong recount that wrapped up Wednesday uncovered more than 5,000 previously uncounted votes.

Voters eager to oust Trump amid long-developing demographic changes in Atlanta’s suburbs and wary of standing in line at precincts due to the COVID-19 pandemic managed to cast a record-breaking 5,000,585 ballots, a large share of which came in the form of vote-by-mail.

As the state’s election chief, Raffensperger hailed the unprecedented hand-recount effort as an immense achievement on the part of county election workers that proved Georgia’s newly installed voting system worked after months of uncertainty.

“Working as an engineer throughout my life, I live by the motto that numbers don’t lie,” Raffensperger said Friday morning. “As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct. The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state’s office, or of courts, or of either campaign.”

But Kemp struck a far different tone in his remarks Friday evening, lashing out at the state’s election system for initially missing thousands of uncounted ballots and calling for legislative changes to how voter signatures are verified on absentee ballots once the General Assembly convenes in mid-January.

“It is important for Georgians to know that the vast majority of local election workers did their job well under unprecedented circumstances,” Kemp said. “However, it’s quite honestly hard to believe that during the audit, thousands of uncounted ballots were found weeks after a razor-thin outcome in a presidential election. This is simply unacceptable.”

Under state law, Trump can still request a separate recount by early next week due to the narrow margin separating him from Biden, which would be done by re-scanning all the ballots electronically rather than re-tallying again them by hand.

Meanwhile, Georgia Democrats have been jubilant over the election results in a state where a Democratic candidate for president has not won since 1992. They have shifted focus to Georgia’s two Senate runoff races that would give Democrats control of the White House and Congress if both Democratic candidates win.

“The audit revealed what was obvious from the start: we flipped Georgia blue,” the Georgia Democratic Party said on Twitter. “The voters have spoken, and nothing is going to change that.”

The runoff elections between Perdue and Ossoff and between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock are set for Jan. 5.