- Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger said he has been under pressure from members of his own party, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, who he accused of encouraging him to find ways to throw out legal ballots.
- Graham denied the allegations but confirmed that he had asked Raffensberger about the state’s signature verification system.
- Around the same time, President Trump also claimed that signatures were not being matched in the recount he requested. The signatures were already verified twice and are not re-verified during recounts to protect voter privacy.
- Raffensberger has continually defended the integrity of the election, even as he and his wife have been receiving death threats since the two Republican Senators in runoffs asked him to resign and claimed, without evidence, there were irregularities in the election.
Raffensberger Says He’s Under Pressure
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger accused Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) of encouraging him to throw out legal ballots in an interview with The Washington Post Monday.
Since Election Day, Georgia has become the center of the political world. Not only is the state home to the two Senate runoffs that will determine control of the chamber, but it is also nearing the end of a historic hand-recount of 5 million ballots. President Donald Trump requested that recount after former Vice President Joe Biden was projected to win the state by about 14,000 votes.
In the interview with The Post, Raffensperger said that as the state’s top election official, he was under enormous pressure from his own party.
That effort was launched two weeks ago when Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — the two incumbent Republicans facing runoffs — took the unprecedented step of asking Raffensperger to resign and claimed, without any evidence, that there were irregularities in the election process.
Raffensberger defended himself and denied the unfounded claims, arguing that there was no credible evidence that there had been any election fraud on a scale large enough to sway the outcome of the election.
But since then, the pressure has only mounted, with Raffensberger also telling The Post that both he and his wife started receiving death threats right after the senators sent that letter.
President Trump has also helped escalate the situation. In a tweet over the weekend, Trump called Raffensberger a republican in name only (RINO), and claimed that the top election official “won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state.”
Most of the claims in that tweet, which was flagged by Twitter, are either misleading or downright false. First of all, recounts are meant to review ballots, not signatures. Absentee voters do not even sign the ballots but the envelopes they come in, which are permanently separated from the ballots after they are verified to protect voter privacy.
Beyond that, the process for verifying the envelope signatures in Georgia is exceedingly thorough. Signatures were already verified twice by election officials: once when absentee voters applied for the ballots, and then again when they sent them in.
Lindsey Graham Allegations
However, Raffensberger alleged in his interview with The Post that Sen. Graham echoed Trump’s claims and pressed him about the state’s election process during a call on Friday.
“In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger,” The Post reported.
“Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures,” the report continued. “Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots,”
When asked by reporters about the call, Graham confirmed that he had in fact called Raffesnberger to ask about Georgia’s signature-matching requirements but denied that he had suggested that Raffensperger throw out legal ballots, calling the accusation “ridiculous.”
“The main issue for me is: How do you protect the integrity of mail-in voting, and how does signature verification work?” he added.
When asked about Graham’s response during an interview with CNN last night, Raffensberger stood his ground.
“It’s just an implication that look hard and see how many ballots you can throw out,” he said of Grahams remarks.
Response and Backlash
Many social media users condemned Graham and said that he should be investigated. Some pointed out the apparent hypocrisy in the fact that a sitting Republican was being accused of attempting to influence the election results after Trump and his cronies have spent weeks spreading totally false claims of Democrats committing fraud.
Others also argued that if the allegations are true Graham should resign, and claimed that his actions were potentially illegal under both federal and state law.
“Why is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee calling Georgia’s Secretary of State to discuss mechanics of an ongoing ballot count?” Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted. “Such a call would be implicitly coercive in the best case, even without Graham’s alleged suggestion about throwing out lawful votes.”
Graham, for his part, continued to defend himself, telling reporters Tuesday morning that he also had similar conversations with election officials in Nevada and Arizona. He also said he was simply doing this because he is a senator who is concerned about election integrity.
Both the Arizona and Nevada Secretaries of State said they had not spoken to Graham, and when pressed later, Graham said he spoke to the Governor of Arizona, not the state’s election official, and said he could not remember who he had spoken to in Nevada.
Notably, most Republicans stayed silent on the accusations on Monday and Tuesday, and the few who did mention the Georgia election again attacked Raffensberger. In a tweet Monday, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said the state needed accountability and claimed “Georgians have lost confidence” in Raffensberger’s ability to lead.
Raffensberger Denounces Attacks
Raffensberger has continually hit back against the attacks and defended the integrity of the signature verifications, absentee ballots, and voting machines.
In a series of posts on Facebook, he debunked false claims made by Trump and explained that Georgia has had no-excuse absentee voting the last 15 years. He also said under his control of the election process, absentee ballots had been strengthened and secured for the first time since they were put in place.
Among other points, Raffensberger noted that he had outlawed absentee ballot harvesting, required mail-in ballots to be uploaded to an online portal with photo ID for each voter, and trained election officials on signature matching.
The state of Georgia has had no excuse absentee ballots since 2005— only those who request a ballot can vote absentee….Posted by GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, November 15, 2020
**Lin Wood Lawsuit** My team secured and strengthened absentee ballots for the first time since 2005. As Secretary of…Posted by GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, November 15, 2020
As for the integrity of the recount, Raffensperger said in the interview with The Post that he believed it would simply “affirm” the results of the initial count. He also added that the hand-count will provide evidence that the voting machines the state used — which have been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories spread by the president and his supporters — were accurate.
Raffensberger even told The Post that some counties in the state have already reported that their hand recounts matched the machine’s tallies exactly. However, he did also confirm that election officials in Floyd County did discover about 2,600 eligible votes that had not been included in the first tallies because election workers had failed to upload them off a memory stick.
While Raffensberger’s office did say the votes probably would have been discovered, it still called for the resignation of the county election director.
“The Floyd County situation was unfortunate,” a spokesperson told reporters, noting that the process had gone smoothly in most other large counties. The spokesperson also said that a good chunk of the newly discovered ballots were cast for Trump, which officially brings Biden’s lead from around 14,200 to around 13,300.
Biden is still expected to ultimately be called as the winner of the state, and even if there is another unexpected curveball in the Georgia recount, he still has enough electoral votes by far to secure the presidency.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (CNN)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”