President Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted the election results in Georgia were rigged while state election officials maintain there’s no evidence of widespread fraud. In an effort to promote the falsehoods, Trump and his allies have continued to call for a signature audit of the absentee ballot envelopes in Georgia, while making false or misleading claims about the potential process.
Even after Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling angrily warned that “it’s all gone too far” and “it has to stop” before someone gets hurt or killed, Trump continued to perpetuate unsubstantiated claims of fraud. In response to a video clip of Sterling calling for the President and senators to “step up,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday night, “Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes. Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia.”
A week earlier, Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that an audit would uncover “tens of thousands of fraudulent and illegal votes,” and suggested that a signature audit would ultimately benefit both himself and the two Republican senatorial candidates in the state.
Despite certifying the state’s election results, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has also joined Republicans’ calls demanding the secretary of state carry out a signature audit, saying “it seems simple enough to conduct a sample audit of signatures on the absentee ballot envelopes” in order to address any lingering concerns Georgians may have about the integrity of the voting system.
Facts First: It’s misleading for Kemp, Georgia’s former secretary of state, to suggest that a signature audit after an election would be “simple,” even if it’s just for a sample of ballots. Georgia’s current secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, told CNN a signature audit is outside his office’s legal purview. It would need to be ordered by a court, and currently, there is no basis to conduct one.
It’s also misleading to suggest that doing so might somehow uncover the kind of fraud Trump is alleging especially since signature matching was already done — twice, in many cases. And even if a signature on an envelope was flagged during an audit, it would be impossible to trace it to a specific ballot in order to remove their vote accordingly.
During a news conference on Monday, November 23, Sterling said he doesn’t see a signature audit happening unless one is ordered by a judge because “the ballots, at this point, now become the custody of superior court judges and clerks, so I believe that is a little out of our situation on this to then say we are going to go with no specific evidence or explanation to go in and start pulling random ballots out to ‘look at.’ Who pays for this? What’s the protocols around this?”
While the Georgia Secretary of State’s office is reviewing calls for a signature audit, Sterling admitted that the office “can’t really see a legal path that makes any sense” because opening up an investigation based on not liking the results could set a bad precedent for future claims.
“Both parties know the rules on this on the front end,” Sterling said. “So now, coming up with a generalized grievance afterwards that there may have been an issue because ‘the person that I wanted to win, didn’t,’ is not a reason to open an investigation potentially.”
In response to Kemp’s statement, Sterling clarified, “This sounds, like he said, a simple request, but it really isn’t.”
What would a signature audit entail?
Trump has claimed, “we don’t need the ballots — we only need the signed envelopes!” in order to conduct the signature audit. And although it’s true the audit would focus on the signatures on the envelopes, the process is more complicated than the President suggests.
According to Georgia’s secretary of state, when the absentee ballot is initially received, the envelope that contains the voter’s signature is examined. If the absentee ballot was requested by mail, this is the second signature verification, as the voter’s signature was first checked when the application was received. If the absentee ballot was requested online, a photo ID was required and the signature is verified once the ballot was received.
Once the signature is verified as matching the signature on file, the ballot that contains the marked vote but not any identifying information is separated from the envelope that contains the identity of the voter and the voter’s signature. This is by design to protect voter privacy.
However, that means if an absentee ballot envelope is found during a signature audit to have a signature that does not match what is on record, there is no way of tying that voter to a specific ballot. It is impossible to find out if a rejected ballot would subtract a vote from Trump or President-elect Joe Biden.
Therefore, Raffensperger said one option would be to “call every single voter, and have them come in to cure” or review and fix any issues with their ballots. Otherwise, the President and his allies are ostensibly relying on the hope that a judge would throw out ALL absentee ballots in a given county with a high rate of signature match issues.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham allegedly hinted at such a possibility on a call with Raffensperger the week after the election. According to state officials, each county keeps records on the overall breakdown of absentee votes, so the campaign could theoretically target specific counties where a majority of absentee ballots went for Biden.
Even so, it’s unlikely they would get the legal signoff needed.
“I don’t think there is a judge in the land that would throw out all those legally cast votes,” Sterling said.