Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official and a frequent target of Trump’s criticism, said the president essentially orchestrated his own defeat in Georgia by undermining confidence in mail-in ballots.
In interviews, Raffensperger notes that roughly 24,000 Republicans who voted in the state’s June primary didn’t cast ballots in the general election. That’s about twice the margin of Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, which made him the first Democratic presidential candidate to capture the state since 1992.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has suggested that President Donald Trump essentially orchestrated his own defeat in Georgia by undermining confidence in mail-in ballots. He notes that roughly 24,000 Republicans who voted in the state’s June primary didn’t cast ballots in the general election. Democrat Joe Biden won the state by less than 13,000 votes.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, meanwhile, hope to expand on a mail-in edge that helped Biden beat Trump in Georgia. The president-elect tallied roughly 300,000 more mail-in ballots than Trump, helping him offset the Republican’s Election Day advantage.
Spurred on by the pandemic, absentee voting has never been more popular in Georgia. Nearly 1 million mail-in ballots have been requested for the runoffs, according to state elections officials, including roughly 600,000 people who were eligible to receive the ballots automatically.
About 1.3 million absentee ballots were cast in the November general election, and a record number of Georgia voters, 1.15 million, voted by mail in the state’s June primary — accounting for nearly half of all ballots cast.
The campaigns and their allies are bombarding Democratic-leaning voters with urgent pleas to request absentee ballots — followed by reminders to fill them out and turn them in once they receive them.
After a coronavirus-related hiatus, Democrats have resumed door-to-door canvassing with safety precautions and are staging events to encourage supporters to cast their vote early.
“Democrats won Georgia by empowering voters across the state to exercise their right to vote early and safely — we fully intend to follow and expand on that playbook to win in January,” said Maggie Chambers, a spokeswoman for the party’s coordinated campaign.
The Democratic mail-in edge has unnerved Republicans who are already worried that Trump’s claims of widespread fraud could dampen GOP turnout.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff hope to expand on a mail-in edge that helped propel Joe Biden to victory in Georgia. The president-elect tallied roughly 300,000 more mail-in ballots than President Donald Trump. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images/TNS)
Trump has only intensified his criticism of Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffensperger after the two Republicans refused his demands to overturn the election results, and some worry that his visit to Georgia on Saturday could do more harm to the GOP Senate incumbents than good. Others say the misinformation campaign risks alienating Republican voters in the long term.
“It troubles me that some folks are willing, just for the sole intent of flipping an election, of spreading misinformation,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who spoke on CNN about friends who sent him pro-Trump conspiracy theories that took him seconds to debunk.
“I think we’re better than this,” Duncan said. “My hope is that we move past this here in Georgia and as a country.”
State elections officials have pushed to counter the conspiracy theories and build confidence in the mail-in system.
Voter signatures are verified before ballots are tallied to make sure they came from the voters who returned them, then later separated from envelopes to protect the secret ballot.
It’s why Trump’s call for another review of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes wouldn’t change election results during the second recount.
“We want 100% of the people to understand that the system is secure,” Raffensperger said in an interview. “We understand that the left doesn’t trust the right, the right doesn’t trust the left, and we want a system where everyone can say, ‘OK, we can cut down on cheating and we can make sure it’s a verifiable system.’ ”
Republican door-knockers are armed with flyers that offer simple instructions about how to request absentee ballots, along with blaring reminders that early voting starts Dec. 14. Still, rebuilding trust a month ahead of the vote is a challenge.
Christopher Vanover, a Savannah truck driver, echoed some in the Georgia GOP in a recent interview by saying that his faith in the electoral system is shaken.
“I believe that you need to appear in person with an ID. I’ve heard reports of dead people getting mail-in ballots,” he said, though state officials stress there’s no widespread fraud. “I do worry about that — for sure.”
Allen Peake, a former state legislator from Macon, said he’s trying to allay the concerns of fellow Republicans by going through the absentee ballot process himself.
“The runoff will be all about turnout, and Republicans need every method — early voting and absentee — if we want to hold those two Senate seats,” he said. “We need every Trump voter to come back out.”
Staff writer Patricia Murphy contributed to this article.