‘This has to stop’: Georgia official calls out Trump, U.S. senators over threats to election workers

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A top Georgia election official Tuesday said President Donald Trump and the state’s two U.S. senators are complicit in threats against election workers and urged them to speak out against the behavior of some of the president’s most irate supporters.

Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, cited threats against a voting systems company technician in Gwinnett County, as well as threats against himself and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He also cited comments by a lawyer for Trump’s reelection campaign who suggested a former cybersecurity official be “shot” for disputing the president’s unproven allegations of massive voter fraud.

“Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia,” Sterling said at a press conference Tuesday. “We’re investigating. There’s always a possibility, I get it, you have the right to go to the courts.

“What you don’t have is the ability to — and you need to step up and say this — is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. “Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up.”

Trump lost the election in Georgia and nationally to former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a response, U.S. Sen. David Perdue issued a statement saying he “condemns violence of any kind, against anybody. Period.”

“We won’t apologize for addressing the obvious issues with the way our state conducts its elections,” the senator said, without saying what the obvious issues are.

Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, said on Twitter: “Like many officials, as someone who has been the subject of threats, of course Senator Loeffler condemns violence of any kind. How ridiculous to even suggest otherwise.”

The Trump campaign issued a statement saying it “is focused on ensuring that all legal votes are counted and all illegal votes are not.”

“No one should engage in threats or violence,” it said, “and if that has happened, we condemn that fully.”

Sterling’s comments amounted to return fire in a heated war of words between some of Georgia’s top Republicans. Loeffler and Perdue have called on Raffensperger to resign, citing unspecified election improprieties but providing no evidence. Other Republicans have taken up the president’s cries of “voter fraud,” though none of the accusations have held up in court.

The comments also came as the political pressure on the secretary of state’s office continued to mount. Two state Senate panels will convene this week to discuss alleged election problems in Georgia as the state finishes a recount in the presidential election.

The Senate Committee on Government Oversight will meet Thursday “to evaluate the election process to ensure the integrity of Georgia’s voting process,” several Senate leaders announced Tuesday.

That same day, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee will take testimony on “state elections improprieties.”

Georgia Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said Republican legislators want to begin looking at possible changes to state election laws that may be considered during the 2021 session, which begins in January.

“We have to start today on election reform in Georgia,” Gooch said during a call into North Georgia’s “BKP Politics” program.

Gooch said “reform” would likely mean making changes to absentee voting, which Democrats used extensively and Trump disparaged. The subcommittee on Thursday will also hear from Trump backers who have blamed fraud for his loss.

“We want to get to the bottom of some of these allegations put out there,” he said.

But changes for future elections likely won’t satisfy the president or his most vocal supporters. They have repeatedly sought — in their comments and in court — to overturn the results of the election in Georgia and elsewhere.

The repeated failure of their voting fraud claims to make headway in court has not tempered their language or behavior. Conspiracy theories — some of them spelled out in lawsuits — continue to abound.

Sterling said the Gwinnett technician for Dominion Voting Systems was the subject of a video that purported to show him manipulating election data. Sterling said the claims were unproven, but the man and his family have received threats.

“I’ve got protection outside of my house. Fine. I took a high-profile job,” Sterling said. “The secretary ran for office. This kid took a job. He just took a job.”

Both Raffensperger and Sterling have security details, and the secretary of state’s wife has also received threats.

Sterling also cited comments by Trump attorney Joe diGenova, who on Monday called for a former federal cybersecurity official to be shot for rejecting the president’s claims about fraud.

Sterling encouraged the president to pursue litigation if he believes there were problems. But he decried the escalation of threats and rhetoric. He said someone will be harmed or killed if it continues.

“This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy,” Sterling said. “And all of you who haven’t said a damn word are complicit in this.”

Former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who was credited with playing a major role in Biden’s victory here, was critical of Loeffler and Perdue.

“Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who have echoed election conspiracies without evidence and contributed to the culture of intimidation and fear, should join us in condemning those who engage in these despicable attacks,” she said. “Georgians deserve better from their leaders than self-serving silence.”

Meanwhile, a third tally in the presidential election is scheduled to be completed Wednesday. The secretary of state’s office says 91 of Georgia’s 159 counties had completed their work as of Tuesday afternoon. Sterling said he believed all counties would meet the Wednesday deadline.

The recount is not expected to change the outcome of the election — under the latest tally, Biden defeated Trump by 12,670 votes out of some 5 million ballots cast.

State Republicans have called for an audit of absentee ballot signatures ahead of the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff — a call repeated Monday by state House Speaker David Ralston. And some state senators have called for a special session of the General Assembly to address voting concerns.

Raffenspgerger has dismissed allegations of widespread voter fraud and other significant problems as unsubstantiated misinformation. And Ralston, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Gov. Brian Kemp have rejected calls for a special session.

Despite calls from Trump supporters to declare him the winner in Georgia, Gooch said there isn’t a lot lawmakers can do at this point to change the outcome of the election. The courts, he said, may be the only avenue with a possibility of success.

“Can the Georgia State Senate overturn the results of Nov. 3? I don’t think we can,” he said. “I don’t know anything we are going to get done in the next eight to 10 days that is going to overturn what’s happened.”

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.