Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and other Republicans have reportedly pressured Georgia secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to toss out legal ballots as part of their increasingly desperate efforts to contest Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the presidential election. Part of those efforts include baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud in Georgia, aimed at challenging the outcome in the sudden battleground state where Biden narrowly defeated Trump. (A hand recount is currently underway, but other than uncovering a few thousand unreported votes, the recount has gone smoothly and is not expected to change the outcome.)
The president and his allies, including Doug Collins, the Georgia representative leading Trump’s challenge on the integrity of the results in the state, have publicly attacked Raffensperger over his handling of the election. Collins has accused Raffensperger of caving to Democrats, while Trump has called Georgia’s recount “a scam” that “means nothing.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Raffensperger said that he and his family have received death threats as a result of the rhetoric, and detailed the Trump team’s attempts to pressure him into supporting their claims of voter fraud. Those allegations include a bizarre and baseless conspiracy theory involving Dominion Voting Systems, the manufacturer of the voting machines Georgia uses, as well as the validity of mail-in absentee ballots. But Raffensperger made it clear to the Post that no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud has been uncovered, and he has defended the state’s handling of the election.
Senator Graham has also gotten directly involved, calling Raffensperger last Friday. Per the Post’s report:
Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.
Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested, as counties administer elections in Georgia.
“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.
Raffensperger later told CNN, “It was just an implication of, ‘Look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out.’” The Wall Street Journal, which also talked to Raffensperger about the call, adds:
“He just took it in a direction that I didn’t expect it to go,” Mr. Raffensperger told the [Journal. He] said that when he was contacted by Mr. Graham Friday, he thought the senator was calling about the state’s two senate races. After an initial conversation, Mr. Graham called back again and brought up the idea of invalidating absentee ballots from counties with higher rates of signature errors, Mr. Raffensperger said, adding that he had staffers with him on that call. [Raffensperger] and his staffers agreed not to act on any of Mr. Graham’s suggestions, he said. “We have laws in place,” he said.
On Tuesday, CNN talked to one of those staffers, who indeed corroborated that he had heard Graham ask if they could throw out ballots:
In response to a question from CNN about the incident, [election implementation manager Gabriel Sterling] said on Tuesday, “What I heard was basically discussions about absentee ballots and if a potentially … if there was a percentage of signatures that weren’t really, truly matching, is there some point we could get to, we could say somebody went to a courtroom could say well, let’s throw (out) all these ballots because we have no way of knowing because the ballots are separated” …
Graham’s comments “might have gone a little to the edge of” what people deem acceptable, Sterling said, but added that he understands why Raffensperger and Graham might have interpreted the conversation differently.
The South Carolina senator has denied that he was implying Raffensperger toss any votes, telling reporters on Monday night that the claim was “ridiculous” and insisting he was merely investigating the state’s methods for verifying signatures and protecting the integrity of mail-in voting (a method of voting that President Trump has been attacking for months). On Tuesday morning, Graham told reporters he had also spoken to secretaries of State of Nevada and Arizona regarding the integrity of the election, in what was likely an attempt to make his call to Raffensperger seem less egregious. But both the Arizona secretary of State and the Nevada secretary of State then denied that Graham spoke to them. Graham later clarified that he “can’t remember” whom he spoke to in Nevada, and that he did not speak with Arizona’s secretary of State, but its governor, Doug Ducey.
Graham told reporters on Monday that he thought he’d had a good conversation with Raffensperger, and that if the secretary of State “feels threatened by that conversation, he’s got a problem.” Of course, Raffensperger already has a problem — he’s being publicly attacked by the president and his allies. He is also facing a federal lawsuit that the Trump team filed the same day Graham called. That legal effort — which appears to be little more than a voter-fraud goose chase — challenges how the state checks signatures on mail-in ballots and allows voters to fix them if they contain errors, and seeks to prevent certification of the election outcome in the state until all mail-in ballot envelopes are inspected and matched to ballots. Raffensperger says that could violate voters’ right to secrecy, and he has vigorously defended the state’s already strict signature-matching process.
There is little reason to believe that Trump’s legal efforts in Georgia will be any more successful than they have been anywhere else. The Trump team’s postelection lawsuits haven’t just failed to gain any traction in the courts, some have been abandoned before they even got that far.
Meanwhile, Trump and his allies’ attacks on Georgia’s voting machines could damage the prospects of the two Republican Senate candidates facing January runoffs in the state. Voters in those elections, which will determine the balance of power in the Senate, will be using the same voting machines. Explained Raffensperger: “I don’t think it’s helpful when you create doubt in the election process. People might throw up their arms and say, ‘Why vote?’”
The Post also reported Monday that there is additional concern in Georgia, and among some Republicans nationally, that Trump’s sore-loser act could prove to be a distraction and political liability ahead of those runoffs. By the current count, Biden only won the state by about 14,000 votes, which means reassembling and/or building on the turnout for Trump in January will be critical. The presidential race is over, regardless of whether or not Trump and his die-hard supporters will ever accept that, and Republicans need voters to be focused on the two statewide races that aren’t.
This post has been updated with additional reporting regarding Graham’s call with Raffensperger and his comments after the fact.