Georgia election chief under siege as Trump loyalists attack vote count

A poll watcher, right, and an auditing team, left, in the Bibb County Board of Elections in Macon on Monday, Nov. 16. Grant Blankenship/GPB

Georgia’s counties neared the end of an audit of 5 million votes in the presidential election Monday just as 2,600 new ballots turned up to add fuel to a continuing war of words over the outcome of Georgia’s GOP-run election.

Poll workers did not scan the ballots at first and adding them to Georgia’s total could net the president about 800 votes. That’s not enough to change the outcome of the Nov. 3 election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated the president by about 14,000 votes in the initial tally.

The failure of Floyd election workers to scan the ballots was an “amazing blunder” but it’s not likely to change the outcome of Georgia’s election, according to state election official Gabriel Sterling.

The tension over Georgia’s presidential election result is spurring unusually public in-fighting within the GOP as Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger traded barbs Monday with Trump and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican who just lost his bid for the U.S. Senate.

Collins is running Trump’s recount effort in Georgia and charged that Raffensperger oversaw an election rife with widespread fraud. Raffensperger fired back that Collins is a “liar” and a “failed candidate.”

The heat from fellow Republicans has steadily increased on Raffensperger after Biden’s lead over Trump built in the days following the election with counting of absentee ballots in 159 counties. Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both up for election in a Jan. 5 runoff, called for Raffensperger’s resignation last week.

Raffensperger ordered the election recount before he entered coronavirus-related quarantine last week. He said he will fight any attempted federal takeover of Georgia’s elections. 

“My office will fight any and all federal overreach to take over Georgia’s elections –regardless of party,” he posted on Facebook. “This is about states’ rights. No federal takeover. Georgia voters deserve free and fair elections.”

Trump incorrectly claimed on Twitter in recent days that Georgia election officials are unable to verify signatures on absentee ballot envelopes because of a consent decree earlier this year. And Raffensperger claims South Carolina’s GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested he toss out legal votes.

Monday afternoon attention turned to Floyd County, where Republican Party Chairman Luke Martin said the newly discovered ballots likely trimmed about 800 votes off Biden’s statewide lead of about 14,000 votes.

The national focus on Georgia’s recount continues Tuesday as the remaining counties still counting ballots near a deadline to report presidential election voting data.

The secretary of state’s office says the state’s new $104 million voting system is processing data as designed and the Floyd elections staff misloaded a memory card into a scanner. 

“It’s not an equipment issue. It’s a person not executing their job properly,” Gabriel Sterling, voting system implementation manager, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is the kind of situation that requires a change at the top of their management side.”

Across Georgia’s largest counties, election officials have not reported any significant problems as they work to meet the secretary of state’s Wednesday night deadline to submit final audited results. Raffensperger’s office is scheduled to release the audit findings after statewide election results are certified Friday.

On Monday, a small staff at Fulton County’s election office compiled data to deliver to the secretary of state from its review of 528,000 ballots. Cobb County officials said they expected to work into Wednesday as a review panel looks at more than 5,000 provisional and absentee paper ballots.

The GOP is trying to find a path through the courts in several states where Trump lost to Biden and lawsuits have been tossed out by judges or voluntarily pulled by the lawyers. A lawsuit filed in Chatham County on Nov. 4 was quickly dismissed, as were suits in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Raffensperger has been in a constant battle with Trump, Collins and their allies questioning the integrity of the state’s new Dominion voting system. Georgia voters cast a record 1.3 million absentee ballots in the election and Trump defenders question the process used to verify signatures on those pieces of paper.

State law requires an audit after a Georgia election, but because of the close presidential race, Raffensperger ordered a hand count of every vote cast in the presidential election.

“We strengthened signature match,” he posted on his Facebook page over the weekend. “We helped train election officials on GBI signature match — which is confirmed twice before a ballot is ever cast. Failed candidate Doug Collins is a liar — but what’s new?” 

Collins countered by accusing Raffensperger of not being equipped to run the state’s elections. 

“In a year of political division in Georgia, few things have unified Republicans and Democrats — one of them is Brad Raffensperger’s incompetence as Secretary of State.”

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.