— Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), in a statement to the Albany Times-Union, Jan. 6, 2021
Stefanik has emerged as a potential replacement for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership. Cheney has repeatedly called out former president Donald Trump for his lie that he won the 2020 presidential election, causing angst in the Republican caucus.
Stefanik, by contrast, has regularly echoed Trump’s falsehoods. Our colleague Aaron Blake first spotted this claim, and it cries out for a fact check now that the lawmaker may soon be a senior leader in the House.
The whole statement is riddled with false claims, many of which we debunked previously, but we’re going to keep our focus on Georgia, as that state — which President Biden narrowly won — is run top-to-bottom by Republicans. So it leaves out any question of partisanship.
There are three claims made here. Let’s start with the craziest one — that more than 140,000 votes cast in Fulton County were illegitimate.
Anyone with basic math skills would know that this claim is absurd. There were only about 525,000 votes cast in the presidential race in Fulton County.
“The Georgia Secretary of State’s office knows the age of everyone who voted because they had to be registered in order to vote, and there were no underage voters,” said Ari Schaffer, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “Across the state, we found only two votes credited to dead voters. The suggestion that one-fourth of all ballots cast in Fulton County in November were illegal is ludicrous.”
Reminder: Raffensperger is a Republican.
Karoline Leavitt, Stefanik’s communications director, did not acknowledge any error. She said in an emailed statement: “The number came from litigation that was ongoing at the time.”
Leavitt said the suit was Donald J. Trump and David Shafer v. Brad Raffensperger, et al., filed in Fulton County in December. We could not find a reference to 140,000 in that filing. But in an emergency appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, which was quickly denied, the filing makes reference to about 141,000 suspect votes — underage, dead and the like — in the entire state of Georgia, not just Fulton County.
The other two statements were regular claims by Trump in the weeks before Jan. 6. Both had been debunked by the time Stefanik’s statement was published.
Raffensperger did not “gut” signature matching for absentee ballots.
In March 2020, the state settled a lawsuit with Democrats, who had argued that minorities ended up having a larger proportion of their ballots rejected. The settlement — signed by Georgia’s attorney general, not the secretary of state — laid out steps to notify voters if there was a potential problem with a signature match.
Under the settlement, voters must be contacted the next business day — by phone or email — if their absentee ballot is rejected because of a signature issue. “The State of Georgia entered a consent decree that essentially did one thing and one thing only … instead of giving three days to inform a voter there was an issue with their ballot, [it] is down to 24 hours when you’re within 11 days of the election,” said Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, at a Nov. 17 news conference. “That is the one and only thing that that consent order addressed in any real way.”
Raffensperger, in a November Facebook post, noted that the rejection rate from 2018 to 2020 was the “exact same. … So, the idea that some settlement agreement that we entered into changed how counties were doing this is basically nonsense.”
As for her last claim — “many individuals testified to not being able to meaningfully observe the counting of ballots” — let’s recall that judges across the country rejected much of the testimony made by Trump partisans as unreliable or false. Yet Trump over and over asserted that nefarious activities were taking place behind closed doors, even though no evidence of wrongdoing was discovered.
Stefanik may be referring to one of Trump’s favorite falsehoods — that Republican poll watchers were ejected in Fulton County and that video showed suitcases of ballots had been hidden under tables. The Fact Checker investigated at the time and the surveillance video — which comprises four security camera feeds — showed no irregularities, illegal behavior or evidence of malfeasance on behalf of poll workers. The supposed “suitcases” have been repeatedly identified by election officials as the standard boxes used in Fulton County to transport and store ballots.
“To this day, there are still serious concerns about the election that have not been addressed,” Leavitt asserted. “It’s been months, yet Georgia officials have failed to produce a chain of custody documents for 404,691 of the approximately 600,000 absentee votes by mail ballots deposited in drop boxes in the 2020 election. WHY?”
Leavitt is referring to an article published in March by the Georgia Star News, a Trump-friendly website that had filed open records requests for ballot transfer data. Some counties apparently have been slow in responding.
On April 7, the secretary of state’s office issued a news release debunking the implication that something mysterious had taken place besides tardy replies to a news organization. “In total, 123 counties had absentee ballot drop boxes for the November election,” the statement said. “Of those, 120 have confirmed they filled out and retained ballot transfer forms in accordance with Georgia rules.”
In effect, three of Georgia’s 159 counties didn’t do the absentee ballot transfer documents, comprising 0.37 percent of all absentee ballots. (In all, 4,939 absentee ballots were cast in these counties by mail, drop box or dropped off at a registrar.) Those counties have been referred for investigation.
The Pinocchio Test
With the passage of time, the appropriate thing for Stefanik to do now would be to admit her statements on Jan. 6 were false. The Georgia election was overseen by Republicans, the ballots were counted three times and, while the margin was close, it’s clear that Biden narrowly won Georgia.
As regular readers know, we generally do not award Pinocchios when a politician admits error.
But instead, the lawmaker directed a spokesperson to issue a statement that offers no regrets and suggests there are still questions about the Georgia vote. The source of Stefanik’s 140,000 figure is suspect, and she offers another dubious claim from the Trumperverse that has already been debunked. Stefanik earns Four Pinocchios.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Rep. Elise Stefanik’s remarks had appeared in an opinion column. She had issued a statement that was published in the Albany Times-Union. The article has been corrected.
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