A top deputy to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who was on a call between his boss and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) confirmed Tuesday that he heard Graham suggest that Raffensperger should try to discard whole counties’ worth of absentee ballots, including legal ones.
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting systems implementation manager, told reporters Tuesday that Graham asked Raffensperger questions about how the state’s signature verification process works. In Georgia, if voters’ ballot envelope signatures don’t match the signatures on file, those ballots are rejected and the voters are notified and given a chance to fix the deficiency.
Raffensperger told The Washington Post on Monday that Graham asked him if partisan bias might cause some invalid signatures to be accepted, and, if those invalid signatures could be identified in large numbers, whether all of the absentee ballots from those counties could be tossed out.
Sterling confirmed those details. “What I heard were discussions of absentee ballots, if there were a percentage of signatures that weren’t truly matching, is there some point where we could go to a court and throw out all of the ballots,” he recalled.
Sterling also repeated Raffensperger’s assertion that, barring court intervention, the secretary doesn’t have the power to take such a step, as counties administer elections in Georgia.
“I could see that Sen. Graham wanted to go one way and Secretary Raffensperger wanted to go another way,” he said.
In response to The Post’s report Monday evening, Graham, a supporter of President Trump, said he was simply trying to learn more about the integrity of the election in a key state that helped President-elect Joe Biden to victory. Graham said he also spoke to election officials in two other states where Biden won with razor-thin margins, Arizona and Nevada — but the secretaries of states in both quickly denied speaking with him.
Graham’s inquiry with Raffensperger came on the same day that a Trump supporter in Atlanta, lawyer Lin Wood, filed a lawsuit alleging that Raffensperger had violated the Constitution by altering the state’s signature-matching rules as part of a settlement in a lawsuit filed by Democrats.
The suit claimed that people of color were disproportionately harmed by the state’s signature-matching rules. In the settlement, Raffensperger and Democrats agreed to require multiple county election officials, rather than just one, to agree that a signature doesn’t match before a ballot is disqualified. The settlement also gave voters more time to fix rejected ballots.
In the lawsuit filed Friday, Wood argued that the new signature-matching requirements are cumbersome and make it more likely that county election officials won’t bother verifying signatures at all.
In fact, in several states with extensive experience with mail voting, such signature-verification procedures are standard.
The suit also criticized Raffensperger for instituting a ballot-tracking system as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the increased demand for mail voting. That system “increased pressure” on local election officials to process ballots quickly, making it less likely that they would properly verify signatures.