Trump’s claims about Georgia lacked facts, context

President Donald Trump made a number of unsubstantiated claims about the integrity of elections in Georgia and Fulton County during a White House speech Thursday night.

As counties tally mail-in ballots, the race between Trump and his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden for the state’s 16 electoral votes is a toss up. Yet Trump said he “won” Georgia the night of Election Day, even though ballots continue to be counted.

“In Georgia, I won by a lot, a lot, with a lead of getting close to 300,000 votes on election night,” the president said. "(It) got whittled down, and it’s getting to be to a point where I’ll go from winning by a lot to perhaps being down by a little bit.”

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Trump had a comfortable lead in Georgia as voting totals rolled in Tuesday night, but many of the counties with early totals were in rural areas where Republicans have greater support. Larger, urban counties, where the count has taken longer to complete, are more fertile ground for Democrats, so it is logical that the president’s lead would shrink as those more populous counties weighed in.

In his comments Thursday, Trump repeated his accusations that mail-in voting is riddled with fraud, despite having voted that way himself. Election experts and officials from both parties have repeatedly said mail-in voting poses no special risk for fraud.

Trump mentioned the water pipe bursting in a room with ballots in State Farm Arena. The Hawks arena has been home to Fulton’s absentee-by-mail ballot counting operations.

201104-Atlanta- Richard L. Barron, director of registration and elections for Fulton County, heads back to the absentee ballot counting room at State Farm Arena on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2020 after finding a quiet room so that he could attend an online Fulton County Commission meeting. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
201104-Atlanta- Richard L. Barron, director of registration and elections for Fulton County, heads back to the absentee ballot counting room at State Farm Arena on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2020 after finding a quiet room so that he could attend an online Fulton County Commission meeting. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

“In Georgia, a pipe burst at a far-away location, totally unrelated to the location of what was happening, and they stopped counting for four hours, and a lot of things happened,” Trump said.

Fulton County Elections head Richard Barron said Wednesday that the pipe dumped a lot of water, soaking the carpeting and hampering work.

“It looked really like there was rain coming out of the ceiling and the entire carpeting was just covered in water,” he said. “There was no way to go in there and perform work.”

At first, the county elections staff reported it was a four-hour delay but then corrected themselves by saying it caused a two-hour delay.

Trump also incorrectly said that “the elections apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats.” Although some areas where ballots are still being counted are in Democratic strongholds, the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, is a Republican and a supporter of Trump.

Raffensperger has emphasized voting security in Georgia, repeatedly saying that voters can rest assured that their ballot matters and all legitimate votes will be counted.

“Officials in numerous counties are continuing to count ballots, with strong security protocols in place to protect the integrity of our election,” Raffensperger said in a press release.

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When asked in a press conference Wednesday about Trump’s comments about voting fraud, Raffensperger didn’t directly address Trump’s claims but reiterated his commitment to administering an accurate election.

“Every legal ballot will be counted in Georgia because that’s our process. We follow state law,” Raffensperger said. “Your vote counts.”

In a more cryptic comment, Trump said Republican election observers in Georgia were denied access to the process “in critical places." He was not specific and made similar suggestions about other states. He did not take questions from reporters.

While there were scattered complaints from observers — from Republican, Democrats and others — of difficulties accessing some polling locations, Republicans concerns about how votes have been handled in Georgia have so far come from their observations, rather than from not being allowed to observe.

David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, tweeted Wednesday that his observers were having trouble viewing tabulation activities.

“Fulton County told our observers last night to go home because they were closing up and then continued to count ballots in secret,” he tweeted.

There was a discrepancy about when workers were sent home on Election Night to stop processing absentee-by-mail ballots. The county said it would stop at 10:30 p.m.

11/05/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — A President Donald Trump supporter holds onto a sign that was ripped during a rally outside of State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, November 5, 2020. Inside State Farm Arena, workers were busy finishing up the process of counting ballots from Fulton County voters. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/05/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — A President Donald Trump supporter holds onto a sign that was ripped during a rally outside of State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, November 5, 2020. Inside State Farm Arena, workers were busy finishing up the process of counting ballots from Fulton County voters. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

There was backlash internally and externally, but Barron said he sent almost all of his staff, who’d worked long hours and at a point were becoming “counter-productive.” So GOP observers thought all was done for the night.

But five county workers stayed to do final processing of ballots until 1 a.m., under the supervision of a state observer.

Fulton commissioner Liz Hausmann, a Republican, told Barron on Wednesday that “the Georgia GOP does not think we treated them fairly.”

“We can’t even have the appearance that we don’t want them to (observe),” she said.

Barron said he was aware of the mistake and that the GOP was certainly welcome to observe.

In Superior Court in Chatham County Thursday morning, two Republican observers testified that they witnessed an election worker allegedly mishandle absentee ballots. The judge threw out that complaint when, in cross examination, the witnesses testified they had no direct knowledge that anything had been done wrong.

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

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