President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about Georgia’s election recount on Saturday, attacking a process conducted by members of the president’s own party at his request.
Top Georgia Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp, declined to rebut Trump’s allegations.
But other prominent Republicans, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, advanced Trump’s claims, and right-wing media outlets amplified the message. A commentator on the conservative website Newsmax described Georgia’s recount — a ballot-by-ballot review of nearly 5 million votes that entered its second day Saturday — as “a sham and a hoax and a fix.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who is Georgia’s chief election officer, acknowledged what he called “misinformation that has circulated in social media.” But in a statement released by his office, Raffensperger did not mention Trump by name.
The attacks on the recount’s integrity came one day after national news organizations called Georgia in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. He beat Trump by 14,122 votes, becoming the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992.
Raffensperger ordered the unprecedented recount a day after receiving a demand for a review from Trump’s campaign, although he said he made the decision on his own.
No irregularities or significant tabulation errors emerged during the first two days of the recount, officials said Saturday. And even if the Georgia outcome were reversed, Biden still would have enough electoral votes from other states to capture the presidency.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Allegations of fraud
Trump launched his attack Saturday morning just as the recount got under way for a second day.
In Twitter posts accented by capital letters and exclamation marks, Trump criticized Raffensperger’s settlement last spring of a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party of Georgia, which tightened procedures for rejecting absentee ballots over the legitimacy of a voter’s signature. Trump claimed Kemp approved the settlement “at the urging” of Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor.
Neither Kemp nor Abrams was a party to the lawsuit or signed the settlement agreement.
Nevertheless, Trump also alleged, without evidence, that the settlement “makes it impossible to check & match signatures on ballots and envelopes, etc.”
“They knew they were going to cheat,” Trump wrote. “Must expose real signatures.”
“What are they trying to hide," he added in a second tweet. "They know, and so does everyone else. EXPOSE THE CRIME!”
The tweets misrepresented the process for handling absentee ballots in Georgia and other states. Recounts never attempt to match ballots to specific voters in the manner Trump appeared to advocate. State and federal laws guarantee ballot secrecy.
In Georgia, voters insert marked absentee ballots into an official envelope, to which they add their signature. Election workers verify the signature against voter-registration records, then remove the ballot and segregate it from the envelope. If the signature does not appear to match, the ballot is set aside, although voters can take steps to prove their identities before the election results are certified.
The lawsuit’s settlement required an additional review before an election worker could reject a ballot.
Trump’s allies seized on his allegation of absentee-ballot fraud.
Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman, wrote on Twitter half an hour after Trump’s first tweets that state legislators should not approve delegates to the Electoral College “until there is a full and clear recount that is honest and not rigged. The people of Georgia do not have to tolerate a flawed election.”
Gingrich offered no evidence of wrongdoing. But he asserted that Raffensperger’s “continuing failure to protect citizens of Georgia’s right to (an) honest election” merited legislative intervention.
Trump supporters who rallied outside the state Capitol on Saturday echoed the president’s contention that the election was rigged. Many carried signs denouncing Kemp and Raffensperger as “RINOs” — Republicans in name only, an insult that Trump hurled against them on Friday. Protesters said they would return weekly until Trump is declared the winner.
But at Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta, a handful of people gathered to encourage Trump to leave office immediately.
“This is a rolling coup,” organizer Tee Smith said of Trump’s effort to change the election results. “That is why we have to come out and demand that they leave now. They need to be stopped.”
‘It takes a lot’
Undeterred by the political turmoil, 130 two-person teams assembled inside the World Congress Center early Saturday to begin a manual recount of Fulton County’s presidential votes.
Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts came to deliver a pep talk that defended the work of the poll workers, county employees and volunteers conducting the recount.
“Unfortunate circumstances in the 2020 election have brought us to this point,” Pitts, a Democrat, told election workers. “But as a result of your work today, I’m confident, once again, that Fulton County, Georgia, will continue to shine. I’ve been involved in audits, recounts, et cetera, throughout my political career, and I do not anticipate any significant changes as a result of your work today.”
In an interview, Pitts said that although he had heard no credible reports of fraud, he recognized that the recount might identify a handful of ballots that were counted inaccurately.
“But enough to change the outcome?” he said. “No.”
Rick Barron, Fulton’s election director, said signatures on absentee ballots had been carefully verified before votes were counted.
“The process has already been done once,” Barron said. “There’s no reason to do it again.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
He said Fulton might complete its recount on Sunday. Other metro Atlanta counties moved steadily through their ballots Saturday, facing a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to complete their work. In each county, observers from both the Democratic and Republican parties watched from inside the counting rooms, as did monitors from the Carter Center — who normally keep tabs on elections in countries with more fragile democracies.
In DeKalb County, teams will work through the weekend and should finish the recount by Monday evening, election director Erica Hamilton said.
“It’s been a smooth process,” she said. “We just want to make sure we have enough time to get it done.”
Gwinnett County’s election director, Kristi Royston, said no problems had surfaced so far.
“Everything seems to be going smoothly,” she said. “It’s a lot of paper to go through, and it takes a lot to get it done.”
Trump’s attacks, though, loomed over the recount, as officials tried to work with both speed and care.
Late Saturday afternoon, Trump wrote on Twitter that the Georgia’s recount “is a waste of time” and urged the count be suspended until observers are allowed to examine voters’ signatures.
Then, as several counties wrapped up the recount for the day, he tweeted again:
“There is tremendous evidence of wide spread voter fraud in that there is irrefutable proof that our Republican poll watchers and observers were not allowed to be present in poll counting rooms,” he wrote. “Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and others. Unconstitutional!”
Twitter, however, added a disclaimer:
“This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
Staff writers Johnny Edwards, J. Scott Trubey, Mark Niesse, J.D. Capelouto, Shaddi Abusaid, Zachary Hansen, Ernie Suggs and Ada Wood contributed to this article.
In order to observe this historic undertaking, several of Georgia’s newspapers are collaborating to provide you with a statewide view. The Athens Banner-Herald, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Augusta Chronicle, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The Macon Telegraph and The Savannah Morning News will share their collective work with you until the recount is complete.