By Beau Evans
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.