Loeffler, Perdue join Republican parade of Georgia election lawsuits

Georgia’s two U.S. senators have joined a flurry of lawsuits seeking to change the state’s handling of absentee ballots.

Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Georgia Republican Party and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed the latest lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Thursday. The lawsuit seeks additional procedures to check the work of election officials who verify the signatures of voters who cast absentee ballots.

It’s the third lawsuit Republicans have filed this week to change the rules for handling absentee ballots in Georgia. One seeks to limit the use of ballot drop boxes to normal business hours, while another seeks to eliminate the use of those boxes altogether.

Together, the lawsuits constitute an extraordinary effort to change the rules of voting ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Already, more than a million voters have requested absentee ballots, and more than 200,000 have already returned their ballots.

The new lawsuit takes issue with the settlement of a federal lawsuit and emergency rules adopted by the State Election Board for absentee ballot processing.

Under the settlement agreement, absentee ballots can’t be rejected because of a mismatched voter signature on the return envelope unless it’s reviewed by three election workers, with at least two of them agreeing the signature does not match.

Among other things, the new lawsuit seeks to have all signatures reviewed by three election workers. And they want what they say is more meaningful public observation of the signature-matching process. The lawsuit seeks to have these changes implemented before counties begin opening and scanning absentee ballots on Dec. 21.

“Georgia’s Senate elections will determine the future direction of our country — everyone should have total confidence in its outcomes,” the senators said in a joint statement announcing the litigation. “That starts with making meaningful improvements to the reliability and transparency of the signature verification process.”

Representatives of the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The office has previously said the settlement agreement complies with existing state law.

The senators’ lawsuit is just the latest Republican effort to overturn Georgia’s absentee ballot rules in court.

The Twelfth Congressional District Republican Committee filed the latest lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Augusta on Wednesday. It seeks to prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes across Georgia and to prohibit the opening of absentee ballot envelopes before Election Day.

The State Election Board adopted emergency rules allowing drop boxes and early processing of absentee ballots last spring to limit human contact amid the coronavirus pandemic. The rules prohibit tabulation of votes until after polls close on election night. The lawsuit says those rules violate provisions of Georgia election law.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has previously said the emergency absentee ballot rules comply with state law.

Also this week, the Republican National Committee and the Georgia Republican Party filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court that seeks to allow voters to return ballots at drop boxes only during normal business hours, not 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, in a lawsuit pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas seeks to overturn presidential election results in Georgia and three other states. The lawsuit says Georgia election officials illegally changed rules for voter signature verification and early opening of absentee ballot envelopes.

Other lawsuits also have cited the emergency State Election Board rules for absentee ballots. So far, none has succeeded in overturning those rules of the presidential election results.

Republican lawmakers have said they’ll take up new rules on absentee ballots in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

The increased attention on absentee ballots comes as President Donald Trump and his supporters continue to make unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voting fraud in the November presidential election. Trump lost the election in Georgia and nationally to former Vice President Joe Biden.