Battleground: Ballot Box | For Trump, Georgia Republicans Ignore Election Reality
On this episode of "Battleground: Ballot Box," we look at the extraordinary steps Georgia Republicans have taken to try and overturn the state's election results, attack the systems and rules they put in place and support President Trump's false claims of fraud.
From the Georgia State House to the U.S. Senate, Republican elected officials have jumped into the deep end of election conspiracies and sought to invalidate elections that they participated in — and won — just because President Donald Trump lost.
In the span of about a week, both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly let Rudy Giuliani run roughshod over committee hearings and spread misinformation. Some lawmakers tried and failed to convene a special session to appoint electors for Trump. The House speaker even said lawmakers should elect the secretary of state instead of voters, and that’s not even the half of it.
Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr are about the only state GOP officials in power who have spoken up about the realities of Georgia’s election and pushed back against Trump's claims.
Last Monday feels like an eternity ago, but that’s when a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush dismissed the infamous “Kraken” lawsuit brought by former Trump legal team member Sidney Powell.
Judge Timothy Batten didn’t even really get a chance to delve into the conspiracy put forth that somehow Georgia’s voting machines were part of a secret Venezuela-led coup to overthrow governments, because Powell — like every other lawyer trying to trash Georgia’s results — is not an election lawyer, and filed her suit in the wrong court, filed it too late in the game and requested “the most extraordinary relief ever sought.”
Monday and Tuesday, a pair of Fulton County Superior Court judges knocked down other lawsuits challenging Georgia’s elections. This time they were filed in the right court, according to Georgia law, but still had issues.
One suit, brought by the conservative Amistad Project as part of the Thomas More Society, sued Raffensperger and Kemp, who are not who the law says should be named as a defendant in such a case. Tuesday, a different judge dismissed a case brought by a Georgia voter who argued thousands of illegal votes were cast in the election. That challenge sued the secretary of state and the state election board members, which is still not what the law proscribes. Plus, this was after Georgia certified its results for a second time that confirmed Democrat Joe Biden won the state’s 16 electoral votes.
The other big bombshell came in the form of a lawsuit filed by Republican Attorney General of Texas Ken Paxton, who sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the results of four swing states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — on the grounds they illegally conducted the election.
Republican Attorney General of Georgia Chris Carr responded by saying that was constitutionally, factually and legally incorrect, and the secretary of state agreed. But that didn’t settle it.
Remember how Sidney Powell and the Kraken suit claimed there was a long-bubbling plan to overthrow the government, allegedly through the voting machine vendors?
Well, it turns out the real calls to overthrow democracy are coming from inside the house.
Just about every other prominent Republican in this state jumped on board with the idea that Texas has the right to tell Georgia what to do with its elections and said that they agree with the lawsuit.
Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue put out a statement literally applauding the Texas case. Last Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence praised Paxton's lawsuit while campaigning for the senators in Augusta. U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter, Rick Allen, Drew Ferguson, Austin Scott all signed a brief supporting that lawsuit. Reps. Jody Hice and Doug Collins joined a day later.
Now, the crux of the Texas lawsuit as it relates to Georgia argued that the state didn’t reject as many absentee ballots as it did in other years, which seemed suspicious, more people voted for Biden than Hillary Clinton, which also seemed suspicious and allegedly there’s a one-in-a-quadrillion chance that Biden won all four swing states.
None of that is based in reality or fact, and no lawmaker returned a request for comment about if they believe those statements.
So you’ve got all these federal lawmakers ignoring the fact that Biden won and openly calling for our judicial branch to invalidate millions of votes. It was a longshot and spurned by the Supreme Court, but what’s the harm, right?
Well, let’s look at what state level Republicans are up to.
On Wednesday, the Republican Senate Majority said it's committing to undoing no-excuse absentee voting — something that it created in 2005 and until recently was mainly used by Republicans. The Republican National Committee and Georgia Republican Party also filed a suit seeking to limit the use of 24/7 secure monitored dropboxes, among other things.
Thursday, the Republican Ga. House speaker suggested that the secretary of state be a position voted on by lawmakers instead of the general public hours after a Republican-led House committee allowed President Trump's personal attorney to spread misinformation and attack poll workers by name.
And then Friday, several state lawmakers filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court full of factual errors about voting in Georgia, claiming that voters needed to sign absentee ballots — in fact, they sign the envelope, not the secret ballot — and again calling for the results to be overturned.
In short, now that Trump lost the White House, Georgia Republicans have seemingly lost their minds.
In the House Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Shaw Blackmon, lawmakers heard hours of testimony from witnesses that support several lawsuits seeking to challenge election results in Georgia.
The sideshow star was Giuliani, fresh off a hospital stay because of COVID-19, contracted around the time he testified maskless in the state Senate earlier in December.
"It's a disgrace to our political party that we would stand by and allow this to happen when it's so obvious that it happened," he said. "There it is right in front of our faces, and they are denying it, and trying to lecture us that we're pushing fraud... And the state legislature has to vindicate the honor of the state of Georgia."
He reiterated debunked claims of fraud in Fulton County pertaining to a 90-second video of vote counting at State Farm Arena while mentioning the names of election workers who have been cleared of wrongdoing. He also repeatedly used racist dog whistles, alleging that the Black Fulton County employees were "surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine" and said when counting ballots after Republican monitors and the media left, they "look like they're passing out dope."
Perhaps the most compelling bit of the hearing came when the committee heard from Matt Braynard, a pro-Trump witness who provided evidence in the one big remaining court case claiming to find thousands of votes illegally cast.
But I did a quick Google search of some names and easily found lawful Georgia voters.
Democratic State Rep. Bee Nguyen did some digging, too:
"I just took the first 10 names that were listed, and that are alleged to no longer be a resident in the state of Georgia," she said. "Of those 10 names, I found eight property tax records that shows the voter still lives at this current address listed under which they're registered in the state of Georgia. They claim homestead exemption on this home as their primary residence. And they pay property taxes on their homes here in the state of Georgia."
That’s not all. Braynard also claimed to have evidence of people who allegedly registered to vote at a P.O. Box, UPS Store or FedEx store. But Nguyen had some news for him there, too, about one of the main addresses on the list.
"It's a condo building with units on top, and it happens to have a FedEx center in the bottom of the condo complex," she said. "I reached out to my friend that lives there and informed him that he and his wife are listed... as having committed voter fraud."
In total, she found at least 70 names of registered voters that were being accused of being illegally registered to vote, plus another 58 at a different apartment complex. Before Blackmon cut her off for time, the Democratic lawmaker and honorary investigative journalist said she even drove to a constituent’s house to ask if they were somehow registered to vote in another state.
Braynard, who was paid a flat fee of $40,000 to produce this data for the suit, wasn’t too shaken in the face of facts.
"First of all, I actually want to thank you for helping to raise issues to help better validate data," he said. "It's only with strong scrutiny that we're able to be completely confident in our findings."
The purpose of the hearing was allegedly to hear about problems and work on solutions to improve Georgia’s voting laws, but the testimony for the rest of the day told a different story.
And, here’s a thing to remember when it comes to making voting changes:
Georgia Republicans passed no-excuse absentee voting about 15 years ago, a method that until recent times was rarely used — and skewed older and Republican. Now, GOP members of the state Senate majority vow to remove that law after more than a million Georgians used it to give Biden a narrow edge in a state that hasn't supported a Democrat for president in nearly three decades.
Georgia Republicans also approved House Bill 316, an omnibus elections law that paved the way for the Dominion ballot-marking device voting system with a paper trail that many are now questioning, as well as other rules and regulations for voting.
In addition, GOP lawmakers now want to get rid of secure absentee ballot drop boxes authorized by the State Election Board, chaired by Republican Secretary of State Raffensperger.
But perhaps the most eye-popping proposal came from Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the steady-handed leader of a shrinking House majority. Angry that the secretary of state’s office declined to attend the hearing on elections, Ralston turned on Raffensperger. Speaking to reporters at a Thursday press conference, Ralston said the snub was the latest example of the secretary of state leaving lawmakers out of the decision process.
"Today we have yet another example of this, of a constitutional officer who has chosen to be on his own and to disregard input from the people who he looks to for his budget and to consider legislative changes to his office as a result of that," Ralston said.
The secretary of state’s office said in a news conference just before that there was a reason for their absence — the dangerous misinformation being spread by Giuliani and the Trump campaign.
"We have a shovel against an ocean, and it’s an ocean being perpetuated by the president of the United States and his legal teams," the secretary of state office's Gabe Sterling said. "And they have the rights to go through their due process. What they don’t have a right to do is then bring them out in a way that they can’t be questioned and can’t be looked at in a real way. They give it more heft than it deserves."
Ralston was relatively unconvinced and said there was only one way to “right the ship,” even though the November election was smooth and largely problem-free. He suggested his preferred option would be the state House and Senate elect Georgia's top elections official, a proposal that is more symbolic than practical given the legislative hurdles needed to make it happen.
Changing the way the secretary of state reaches office would require a constitutional amendment — approved by a supermajority of the Legislature and then passed by voters. Republicans don't have the votes to make such a drastic change, so like many things said in recent weeks, it seems more like grandstanding than practical policy.
The 2021 legislative session takes extra prominence this year because of redistricting, and while Republicans still control both chambers, Georgia's shift leftward could be accelerated by GOP attacks on election integrity and voting rights or slowed by strategic mapmaking.
On Monday, Georgia’s 16 Democratic electors met to cast ballots for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, led by former gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.
But in a sign of the times, elsewhere in the State Capitol 16 Republicans met to form their own slate of electors for President Trump just in case a court takes unprecedented steps to invalidate the election and force the state’s votes to change.
No matter what happens, it is clear that the Nov. 3 general election will have a lasting effect on Georgia laws and politics, and we’ll help you keep track of what it all means.
Battleground: Ballot Box is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. You can subscribe to our show gpb.org/battleground or anywhere you get podcasts. Please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Our editor is Wayne Drash, our intern is Eva Rothenberg, our show is mixed by Jesse Nighswonger and the Director of Podcasting is Sean Powers.