While most of America prays for 2021 to be slightly less tumultuous than the chaotic national entropy that swirled around 2020 like a corrosive miasma of doom, it’s apparent that the outgoing Trump administration didn’t get that memo, much to the irritation of Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. As soon as one of the many lawsuits filed against Georgia, its counties, or its election officials is dismissed, another one pops up in a game of electoral Whack A Mole.
In the midst of the madness, there are two Senate races that take place today At stake is control of the Senate, and voter turnout is smashing records right and left. One might recognize the gravity of this situation and give state and local election officials a bit of space in which to conduct an election that immediately followed December’s runoff election and is a scant two months past a Presidential election that just refuses to die. President Trump hails from NYC, the city that never sleeps; apparently, neither do he or his attorneys.
True to form, on January 2nd, 2021, with the New Year barely 36 hours old, President Trump placed a call through the White House switchboard to SOS Raffensperger, like he had 18 times since November 3rd. Only this time, Raffensperger actually picked up the phone.
Call of Duty
The call to Raffensperger involved several parties: President Trump, White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, his attorney of record, Kurt Hilbert, attorney Cleta Mitchell, who is not attorney of record or otherwise a party to any Georgia-related election lawsuit as of this writing, Secretary Raffensperger, Ryan Germany, General Counsel for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, and an investigator from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Obviously, this was not a social call. Explanations offered by the White House seem to imply that a pre-litigation settlement discussion was the purpose of the call. I’ll get into this a bit later.
In audio and transcripts provided by the Washington Post, the President is heard demanding that the SOS locate 11,779 ballots: the margin of victory between Trump and the winner of the election, President-elect Joe Biden. This specific figure is mentioned at least 7 times over the hour-long conversation. That’s the only part of the call that doesn’t need to be explained to non-election people. The rest… requires a bit of context in order to make any kind of sense. As someone who has been part of multiple post-election audits, my first instinct is to note the allegations, figure out where they’re coming from, and determine how plausible a given situation might be. This is infinitely easier to do when things are in order, but they’re not, so bear with me. Addressing every allegation would turn this into a novel, so I’ll just be covering some highlights.
The Allegations, Explained
“Anywhere from 250-300,000 ballots were dropped mysteriously into the rolls.”
Where did these 300K ballots come from? Remember, there are no magical ballot fairies. I’m unsure whether Trump’s legal advisors genuinely believe hundreds of thousands of ballots appeared without a corresponding log of voter check-ins or returned absentee ballots. Additionally, he fails to specify whether these were ballots marked and cast using electronic ballot marking devices, or if they were the Emergency/Provisional/Absentee pre-printed paper ballots hand marked by voters that are used in case of widespread equipment failure, questions about a voter’s eligibility, or voting by mail. (Yes, the three situations all call for the same ballot type. This gives me hives, but it’s not my state, I don’t make the rules.)
If the ballots are from the BMD machines, the machines should have a log of how many ballot cards were inserted into the machines, and a discrepancy between ballot cards issued at check-in and scanned/tabulated ballots would be picked up pretty quickly, even during the Early Voting period. If the extra ballots were pre-printed emergency ballots, then there should be accounting paperwork and chain of custody forms to review.
“We think if you check the signatures, you’ll find at least a couple hundred thousand forged signatures of people who have been forged.”
When a voter signs their registration form, a poll book, or absentee ballot envelope, they’re swearing to an oath that they’re a qualified elector. So now what he’s implying is ineligible folks forged the signatures of eligible voters and were issued or returned ballots illegally. While that does happen in elections from time to time, 200,000 individually forged signatures require far more competence and coordination on behalf of all parties involved. Georgia does have a signature review process, they’ve been sued over its multiple times, and as of March 6th, 2020, voters with signature issues must be contacted so they have the opportunity to correct the defect. Secretary Raffensperger is on the record saying that around 5,000 signature matches were flagged, and just over 2,600 were successfully cured by the voters and counted. Leaving 2,400 signatures that were rejected statewide, which isn’t anywhere near 200,000.
Frankly, if the state of Georgia discovered 200,000 forged voter signatures, election fraud isn’t what they should be worried about. They should be far more worried about things like mass scale identity theft ruining thousands of lives.
“But you also have substantial numbers of people, thousands and thousands who went to the voting place, and were told they couldn’t vote because a ballot had been put in their name.”
This one is easy to verify. If a voter disputes that they have already voted, by law, they’re entitled to vote via a provisional ballot. In the 2020 general election, around 13,000 provisional ballots were issued statewide. That is a startlingly low number, given Georgia’s history of polling place issues. Not all of those 13,000 provisional ballots were accepted. According to the certified totals released by the SOS office, 11,120 provisional ballots were counted… even if all of them went for Trump, it’s still 659 votes short for the necessary 11,779 vote total needed to beat President-Elect Biden.
So much for thousands upon thousands…
“Do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that’s what the rumor is.”
Here’s a depressing fact about elections. They involve massive wastes of paper. Storing all that paper requires a lot of warehouse space, and that’s expensive. Fulton County has not responded to the allegations, the video footage in Cobb County appears to be of unused/sealed emergency paper ballots being destroyed. If the ballots were never issued, there’s two options on how to handle the problem. Election offices can void the ballots, cross out the serial numbers/precincts and use for Poll worker training, or they can have them shredded, because they can’t be used in future elections. That’s standard in just about any election jurisdiction that uses paper ballots, whether machine-marked or hand-marked.
There’s no independently verified evidence of voted ballots from 2020 being shredded as of this writing. If that’s the case, heads need to be rolling, because state and federal law require all issued/ voted ballots from federal elections be retained for at least 22 months, and are absolutely subject to public record requests and physical inspection.
Side note: there are multiple references to “unsigned ballots”. Due to pesky things like voter privacy laws, signing an actual ballot is a problem, and the ballot can’t be counted.
The rest of the transcript is a marvelous moving of goalposts, mentions of unnamed “experts”, insinuations of illegal activities, and multiple references to a “settlement agreement”…excuse me, ”consent decree” from a prior resolved lawsuit. The parties involved aren’t sure which settlement is being referred to, and nobody has a copy of any settlement order/consent degree in front of them.
Wasn’t a pre-litigation settlement discussion supposed to be the official pretext for this call in the first place? That seems like something Trump’s attorney of record should be in possession of. Raffensperger’s attorney of record wasn’t present, which casts serious doubt about the motivation behind the call.
Speaking of motivations, there’s been considerable speculation about whether or not all parties knew they were being recorded, why it was recorded, why the audio was released to the Post, and who leaked it. Here’s my best guess: yes, they knew. In a related lawsuit brought by Georgia’s election vendor, anyone who could be named as a party to the suit, the White House, the state of Georgia, attorneys, and the vendors have been instructed to preserve any and all forms of election-related communication as part of the discovery process.
There are two schools of thought regarding the who and why of the released call audio. The first is that the conversation was intended to remain between the parties, was recorded as a CYA, and an insulting comment directed at the SOS via Twitter provoked the SOS to release the tapes. The second is that the White House recorded everything on their end as well, and leaked the audio as a preemptive strike to embarrass the SOS and cast doubt on the Senate election.
Will this affect the runoff?
I’m honestly not sure. Most of the Democrats have voted by mail or voted during the Early Voting period, and they definitely didn’t need the tapes to convince them to vote for Jon Ossoff or Raphael Warnock. Republican turnout during the Early Voting period hasn’t been nearly as brisk. Most people on the ground have indicated that Election Day will bring significantly higher numbers for Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue. And most of the right-leaning voters have stayed loyal to both Trump and the candidates he endorses.
The tape is bad, but the news came so late, that it may not impact anything. Some voters may choose to sit this one out, but given how much of an impact this election will have, Republican voters would be taking a huge risk by allowing speculation to overtake their goal of flipping Georgia back to red.