For The Record

Statewide absentee ballot signature audit to ‘restore faith’ gets UGA assist

By: - December 16, 2020 8:40 pm

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that the University of Georgia will conduct a statewide signature audit of voters who cast absentee ballots. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

A University of Georgia research team will conduct a statewide voter signature match audit as claims of voting irregularities in the Nov. 3 election persist heading into the Jan. 5 runoffs.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Wednesday that UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs would examine the authenticity of absentee ballot voters’ signatures. Absentee ballot integrity has been criticized by many Republicans this year as a record number were cast in the general election and they helped sway Georgia in favor of President-elect Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, both Republicans, have dismissed claims of rampant voting fraud. However, many Trump allies continue to claim without evidence many absentee ballots are fraudulent or that election staffers aren’t skeptical enough when comparing the signatures on the absentee ballot envelopes.

Raffensperger, who has come under fire by some within his party, said the audit should dispel many false statements about the state’s voting process. 

“This team will work to restore faith in the process and put these rumors to bed once and for all,” he said. “All Americans, all Georgians, all voters all deserve respect.”

The university audit will be the second signature match to occur following the Nov. 3 election. Already underway is a more targeted signature audit in Cobb County after a claim the county’s election staff did not follow proper procedures. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is assisting in that case.

As with an earlier hand recount that served as an audit and a third count of votes requested by the Trump campaign the latest verification efforts will not change the outcome of the Nov. 3 election, according to secretary of state officials.

The decision to finally audit signatures after weeks of pressure was motivated in part by pledges from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston to provide extra resources, said Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager and another GOP member.

Details are still in the works to determine how the university audit will be conducted, he added.

Voters requested many of the absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 election and upcoming runoff through a new Secretary of State online portal that requires a state identification number and then a signature check takes place once the ballot is turned in.  

Early in-person voting started Monday for the runoffs pitting U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock, and GOP Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Another runoff on the ballot is a Public Service Commission race between incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Democrat Daniel Blackman.

By Wednesday morning, more than 700,000 ballots had been cast in the election and more than 1.3 million absentee ballots had been requested for the runoffs.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.