Ga. Secretary of State deputy calls out Trump, senators over election threats

By: - December 1, 2020 11:34 pm

Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, criticized President Donald Trump and then-Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler for not publicly condemning threats of violence after a technician working in Gwinnett County received death threats. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder (file)

A deputy for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called out President Donald Trump and U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler Tuesday for not publicly condemning the harassment and threats coming from their supporters upset with the election results.  

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting systems implementation manager, criticized the influential Republicans for fanning the flames of unfounded election fraud claims that led to a 20-year-old Gwinnett County voting equipment technician and their family receiving death threats. 

The technician was falsely accused of manipulating election data during the ongoing presidential recount and is just another example of the type of harassment and threats that Raffensperger and others have dealt with since the Nov. 3 election, said Sterling. 

Sterling also cited a former Trump campaign lawyer’s comment Monday that Christopher Krebs, the election cybersecurity expert fired by the president after debunking conspiracy theories about the election, should be “taken out at dawn and shot.”

Loeffler and Perdue, both involved in intense Jan. 5 runoff campaigns, have supported Trump’s frequent election complaints in Georgia and several other states. Both senators have called on Raffensperger to resign over unspecified failures. 

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” a fiery Sterling said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the state Capitol. “Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up. And if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.”

Sterling said he still supported the senators but that they need to “step up.”

Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson fired back at Sterling’s comments Tuesday evening.

“Like many officials, as someone who has been the subject of threats, of course Senator Loeffler condemns violence of any kind,” Lawson said. “How ridiculous to even suggest otherwise. We also condemn inaction and lack of accountability in our election system process—and won’t apologize for calling it out. Senator Loeffler will continue fighting to ensure we have a fair, trusted, and accurate election because the future of our country is at stake.”    

Perdue’s communications director, John Burke, said the senator “condemns violence of any kind, against anybody. Period.”

“We won’t apologize for addressing the obvious issues with the way our state conducts its elections,” Burke added. “Georgians deserve accountability and improvements to that process — and we’re fighting to make sure the January 5th election is safe, secure, transparent, and accurate.”

The Trump campaign issued this statement: “The campaign is focused on ensuring that all legal votes are counted and all illegal votes are not. No one should engage in threats or violence, and if that has happened, we condemn that fully.”

Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who co-founded the voting rights group Fair Fight, said Tuesday that Georgia’s senators have “echoed election conspiracies without evidence and contributed to the culture of intimidation and fear” and called on them to condemn those “who engage in these despicable attacks.”

Sterling’s searing comments came as Georgia nears the end of its official recount. So far, about 90 of Georgia’s 159 counties have completed the recount, while the remaining counties have a Wednesday night deadline to finish rescanning the 5 million ballots cast in the presidential race. 

A previous hand count review of the ballots confirmed former Vice President Joe Biden’s win by nearly 13,000 votes. Still, Trump requested this latest recount as he continues to assail fellow Republicans Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp for not supporting his attempts to overturn the election results. 

On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate Republican leadership team announced a pair of committee meetings Thursday to look into “election improprieties” and review the state’s election processes.

The Senate Government Oversight Committee will host the first hearing with an agenda listing the secretary of state’s office and election board members from Fulton, Muscogee and DeKalb counties as witnesses. And at 1 p.m., a special Judiciary subcommittee will hear testimony about election irregularities. 

“We are facing unprecedented challenges to our election system and its integrity,” said Sen. William Ligon, a Brunswick Republican who will soon leave office after not seeking re-election this year. “As Georgians, we must step up to the enormous task that faces us. I appreciate Chairman Jesse Stone appointing this subcommittee. His charge to me is to examine the recent election cycle, the recount process, the audit process, the current investigations taking place, the litigation that is moving forward, as well as address issues relating to the upcoming runoffs. 

“That is a broad mandate to accomplish in such short order, yet, by the grace of God, we will accomplish the task with the help of patriotic Georgia citizens,” Ligon said in a statement.

Raffensperger publicly hasn’t received much support from Georgia GOP officials but did get a major boost from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who asked his party members to put an end to challenging the election results.

He urged Republicans to instead focus their attention on getting Perdue and Loeffler re-elected in their Jan. 5 runoffs against Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.

“It’s certainly disheartening to watch folks willing to put their character and their morals out there just so that they can spread a half-truth or a lie in the efforts to maybe flip an election,” Duncan said on CNN. “Certainly, that’s not what democracy is all about. You know I would urge the president, I would urge Republicans to redirect their post-election approach.”

The comments come on the heels of U.S. Attorney General William Barr telling the Associated Press that federal authorities found no widespread evidence of voter fraud. “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP  Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, incoming Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler says this week’s committee meetings won’t change the fact there’s no proof that the election was compromised.

“They’re just sore losers,” the Stone Mountain Democrat said in an interview. “We need to move on from this. It’s been determined by the vote, the count, the recount, the audit, all of it, that Biden is the winner.” 

The November election isn’t the first time this year that lawmakers have held hearings on election issues. A House legislative committee held a series of hearings following the June 9 primary that overwhelmed some local election offices stuck carrying out an election during a pandemic. 

Among the reported problems were thousands of voters in Fulton and several other counties waiting in lines for hours. And many election staff across the state struggled to process the high volume of absentee ballots.

After a rocky start in some of the state’s larger counties for the first few days of early voting for the general election, the long lines from the primary mostly disappeared, with the average Election Day wait time of several minutes.

Lawsuits, absentee ballots and previous election problems

Raffensperger’s office is investigating 250 cases related to the Nov. 3 election, including Fulton County’s handling of absentee ballots and a claim from a Republican Gwinnett County election board member that there appeared to be more absentee ballots than envelopes. 

And during the intensive hand count auditing process, four counties uncovered thousands of missing votes, giving Republicans more ammunition to question the integrity of the election. 

A contingent of Republican state and congressional leaders, including Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, have pressed for Raffensperger to complete a signature match audit after a record 1.3 million absentee ballots were cast in the general election. 

Raffensperger has repeatedly pointed out that signatures are verified when local election officials process them and that there is no specific evidence to warrant such an undertaking after this election.

There are also four pending lawsuits challenging Georgia’s presidential election, including one case that was appealed after a Trump-appointed judge refused to block the state certification process. Marc Elias, an attorney with Perkins Cole who represents the Biden campaign, said Tuesday that he was confident the courts would continue to reject the claims. 

“All of this, taken together, is a sad political theater that is part of a broader and deeply troubling attempt that is playing out on the national stage to enlist the judiciary in a desperate, cynical effort to cast doubt on the outcome of the presidential election,” Elias said of the lawsuits.

Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Stanley Dunlap
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.