For The Record

Kemp’s office shuts down push for governor to intervene in election

By: - November 30, 2020 6:42 pm

President Donald Trump has criticized Gov. Brian Kemp in the wake of his defeat in a state he won by 5 points four years ago. In July Kemp greeted the president at the Atlanta airport and received a friendly chuck on the shoulder. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The governor’s office is pushing back on President Donald Trump’s calls for Gov. Brian Kemp to use his “emergency powers” to force a review of absentee ballot signatures.

Trump, who narrowly lost to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia, has freely voiced his displeasure with the governor, particularly in the wake of his defeat in a state he won by 5 points four years ago. The president said Sunday on Fox News that he was “embarrassed” he endorsed Kemp in 2018, saying the GOP governor has “done nothing” as the president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud have failed to gain traction.

“Why won’t Governor @BrianKempGA, the hapless Governor of Georgia, use his emergency powers, which can be easily done, to overrule his obstinate Secretary of State, and do a match of signatures on envelopes,” Trump tweeted Monday morning.

Kemp’s office shut down the president’s public call for an intervention.

“Georgia law prohibits the Governor from interfering in elections,” Kemp’s spokesman Cody Hall said in a statement Monday. “The Secretary of State, who is an elected constitutional officer, has oversight over elections that cannot be overridden by executive order.”

Hall said the governor continues to follow the law and encourage Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is also a Republican, to “take reasonable steps – including a sample audit of signatures – to restore trust and address serious issues that have been raised.”

Another high-ranking Republican state official, House Speaker David Ralston, has also called on Raffensperger to verify the signatures for absentee ballots. He re-upped that call Monday.

“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and we must use all available tools to protect the integrity of the vote,” Ralston said in a statement, adding that such a review should be done ahead of the Jan. 5 runoffs.

Ralston indicated that he would be willing to find money in the state budget to fund the initiative, should Raffensperger request the resources.

State election officials – who are in the middle of a third count of the ballots cast in the presidential election – have cited a lack of specific claims that would warrant such an undertaking.

Absentee ballot signatures are verified when they are processed by local election officials. The ballots are then separated from the envelopes to ensure anonymity for the voter, so it would not be possible to tie ballots back to the envelopes they arrived in.

“I believe that it’s a little out of our situation to then say we’re going to go with no specific evidence or explanation to go in and start pulling random ballots out to look at,” Gabriel Sterling, voting systems implementation manager, said at an earlier press conference. “Who pays for this, what’s the protocols around this? Is it the GBI, is it our office, is it the people who already did this doing it again?

“We can’t really see a legal path makes any sense because if you open up investigations on generalized grievance without any evidence that leaves it open for somebody else in the future to do the exact same thing.”

Sterling said the Secretary of State’s Office is investigating a specific claim coming out of Gwinnett County, where a local elections board member reported there being more absentee ballots than ballot envelopes.

Georgia Recorder reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.