Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) rejected claims that he sought to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to throw out legally-cast ballots.
Raffensperger told The Washington Post in an interview that Graham asked him whether election officials had the authority to reject mail ballots in counties with higher rates of signature discrepancies. He later told CNN that Graham first asked him “if the ballots could be matched back to the voters,” with Raffensperger adding that his sense of the conversation was that “it was just an implication of, ‘Look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out.’”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference in Atlanta, Ga., on Nov. 11, 2020. (Brynn Anderson/AP Photo)
Graham challenged Raffensperger’s characterization of their conversation, telling CNN that the claim that he sought to have legal ballots tossed is “ridiculous.”
“What I’m trying to find out was how do you verify signatures on mail-in ballots in these states that are the center of attention?” Graham said, presumably referring to the legal challenges to election results in a handful of states that have been put forward by President Donald Trump’s legal team and Republican allies amid allegations of voter fraud and other irregularities.
“When you mail in a ballot, you’ve got to have some way to verify that the signature on the envelope actually matches the person who requested the ballot,” Graham told the outlet. “It seems to me that Georgia has some protections that maybe other states don’t have, where you go into the portal to get your ballot. But I thought it was a good conversation. I’m surprised to hear him verify it that way,” the South Carolina Republican added.
Morgan County election officials sort ballots during an audit in Madison, Ga., on Nov. 13, 2020. (John Bazemore/AP Photo)
The large-scale expansion of mail-in voting has thrust the issue of election integrity into the spotlight, with Trump claiming in a series of tweets that Georgia election officials are unable to verify signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes because of a legal settlement known as the consent decree.
In a Saturday tweet, Trump claimed: “The Consent Decree signed by the Georgia Secretary of State, with the approval of Governor @BrianKempGA, at the urging of @staceyabrams, makes it impossible to check & match signatures on ballots and envelopes, etc. They knew they were going to cheat. Must expose real signatures!”
Raffensperger has pushed back on claims that the consent decree in any way compromised officials’ ability to verify signatures.
“We strengthened signature match. We helped train election officials on GBI signature match—which is confirmed twice before a ballot is ever cast,” Raffensperger, a Republican, wrote in a post on Facebook.
“Our office has received multiple requests to match ballots back to voters—exposing how a Georgia voter has voted.” Raffensperger’s post read. “We stand ready to prevent any and all attempts from any party to intimidate voters. Georgia voters have a right to vote in secret without intimidation from any political candidate or party,” he added.
Gwinnett County workers begin their recount of the ballots in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Nov. 13, 2020. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)
It comes as Georgia is in the midst of a hand recount of the presidential race as part of a risk-limiting audit, scheduled to be completed by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, with a Friday deadline for statewide vote certification.
The vast majority of the state’s 159 counties had completed their hand tally by Monday, according to Gabriel Sterling, a senior elections official in Georgia. He said what remained was mostly data entry and quality control measures before submitting results to the secretary of state.
State election officials have said they wouldn’t release any results from the tally until the whole process is complete.
Election officials said Monday that the hand tally turned up more than 2,500 votes in one county that weren’t previously counted, but added that this would not change the overall outcome of the race.
Sterling said the unofficial breakdown of the votes was 1,643 for Trump, 865 for Democrat Joe Biden, and 16 for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen.
“The reason you do an audit is to find this kind of thing,” Sterling said.
Raffensperger’s office has said it’s likely the results will differ slightly from those previously reported by the counties but that the difference is not expected to change the outcome.
Once the hand tally is complete and the results are certified, the losing campaign can request a recount, which would be done using scanners that read and tally the votes.
The state law in Georgia, where pre-certification vote counts show Biden leading Trump by 0.3 percentage points, provides the option to a trailing candidate to request a recount if the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.