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GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, forced into tough runoff elections, have alleged malfeasance in the Nov. 3 elections, but don’t back it up with details or evidence.
The two senators have called for the GOP head of elections in Georgia to resign.
The joint move appears aimed at helping the senators’ re-election fights against two surging Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Around the country, claims of voting irregularities are increasingly taking on a heavily partisan taint — particularly in Georgia, where the voting Nov. 3 was only a prelude to two runoff elections in January that will decide which party controls the Senate.
Georgia’s two senators — both of whom face runoffs against surging Democrats — called for the resignation of the state’s top election official.
But in their joint statement, incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler cited no specific malfeasance on the part of their fellow Republican, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Instead, they said Raffensperger should step down because of "too many failures in Georgia elections this year" and "mismanagement and lack of transparency."
President Donald Trump tweeted a Breitbart story about the joint statement.
Raffensperger didn’t accept the criticism silently. He responded with his own statement, defending the integrity of Georgia’s elections and declaring he would remain in office:
"I know emotions are running high. Politics are involved in everything right now. … As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that."
Georgia election experts saw the move as a way for Loeffler and Perdue to keep their supporters engaged.
Voter turnout in January "will be crucial," said Scott Ainsworth, professor and head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia. "One way to energize the Republican base in Georgia is to adhere tightly to Trump's claims of election fraud. It doesn't matter that the secretary of state in Georgia is a Republican."
"This looks more like an appeal to keep the base enthused than anything else," said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
Not all conservatives see that strategy as effective.
In his podcast, conservative Georgia-based commentator Erick Erickson said on Nov. 10 that some people are "internalizing that the Democrats in Georgia have stolen an election….That’s not helpful for winning the elections. One, I don’t think it’s true; two, there’s no evidence of it; and three, those of you who believe it are going to be so abjectly depressed, you’re not to get engaged with this election."
The Associated Press and other news organizations have declared Joe Biden the winner of the presidency over Trump, but the AP has not yet declared a winner of the presidential contest in Georgia, where Biden holds a lead. Meanwhile, control of the Senate will be decided on Jan. 5 by the Georgia runoffs, given that there are now 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats elected for the 2021 Congress. One Senate race in Alaska and another in North Carolina have not been called.
Georgia was an unusual case going into Nov. 3, in that both of its Senate seats were up for election, due to an unexpected opening. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned in December with health problems, was replaced on an interim basis by Loeffler. And under the Peach State’s rules, since no candidate in either race won at least 50% of the vote, the two runner-ups will face off in two runoff elections on Jan. 5.
Georgians haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 20 years. But the fact that both GOP incumbents were forced into runoffs has given Democrats hope.
One race features Perdue, a senator since 2015, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker who ran for a Georgia congressional seat in 2017. Perdue finished first on Nov. 3, with 49.7% of the vote, to Ossoff’s 47.9%.
In the other, Loeffler is challenged by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, both of whom are making their first runs for public office. Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, finished first, with 32.9% of the vote and Loeffler finished second, with 25.9%.
We’ve examined several claims about election irregularities in Georgia, rating each of them False:
Ballots for Trump "were discovered in a dumpster" in Spalding County. False. No ballots were discovered in a dumpster, according to the county’s Republican sheriff.
"40,000 rejected vote by mail ballots in DeKalb County need to be cured by Friday or they will be tossed." False. The county Board of Registration and Elections debunked the claim.
An election worker in Atlanta was captured on video throwing away a ballot. False. The worker threw away a piece of paper containing voter instructions.
State election officials said claims that military ballots went missing are false, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. Also false, according to the newspaper, are allegations about ballot harvesting, double-counted ballots or inaccurate results. A claim that ballots were found in a dumpster was false. And the lone elections lawsuit, involving ballot handling in Chatham County, was dismissed by the Chatham County Superior Court.
There is no credible evidence of widespread irregularities, said Emory University political scientists Zachary Peskowitz and Alan Abramowitz.
"The idea that the Republican secretary of state would allow that to happen is preposterous," said Abramowitz. "I don't see any Republicans here complaining about the vote count in the races that they won."
In a joint statement on Nov. 6, Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, all Republicans, expressed no alarm about election irregularities, saying: "Any allegations of intentional fraud or violations of election law must be taken seriously and investigated. We trust that our secretary of state will ensure that the law is followed as written and that Georgia’s election result includes all legally-cast ballots — and only legally-cast ballots."
On Nov. 9, the office of the governor, Brian Kemp, himself a former Georgia secretary of state, issued a statement saying the closeness of the election and the high number of mail-in and absentee ballots should be a "wake-up call" for Raffensperger to review allegations of irregularities. But the statement did not criticize Raffensperger.
Also on Nov. 9, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan was asked on CNN if he'd seen any evidence of widespread systemic voter fraud or irregularities. "We've not had any sort of credible incidents raised to our level yet and so we'll continue to make sure that the opportunity to make sure every legal ballot is counted is there, but you know at this point, we've not seen any sort of credible examples," he said.
The Associated Press reported that the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns did not respond to requests on Nov. 9 for further comment on their joint statement. Other reporters and commentators reported the same. The campaigns also did not respond to PolitiFact’s requests for details to back the allegations in the statement.
New York Times, "Barr Hands Prosecutors the Authority to Investigate Voter Fraud Claims," Nov. 10, 2020
Washington Post, "Barr clears Justice Dept. to investigate alleged voting irregularities as Trump makes unfounded fraud claims," Nov. 9, 2020
New York Times, William Barr memo, Nov. 9, 2020
Twitter, Donald Trump tweet, Nov. 9, 2020
Kelly Loeffler campaign website, joint statement, Nov. 9, 2020
Twitter, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger tweet, Nov. 9, 2020
PolitiFact, "Georgia election worker falsely accused of discarding ballot is in hiding, official says," Nov. 7, 2020
Rev.com, "Georgia Press Conference on Election Count Updates Transcript November 9," Nov. 9, 2020
Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Perdue, Loeffler offer no evidence for claims of election 'failures,’" Nov. 9, 2020
Georgia Governor’s Office, joint statement, Nov. 6, 2020
Twitter, Georgia governor’s office statement, Nov. 9, 2020
Email, Scott Ainsworth, professor and head of Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia, Nov. 10, 2020
Email, Emory University political scientist Zachary Peskowitz, Nov. 10, 2020
Email, Andra Gillespie, political science professor at Emory University, Nov. 10, 2020
Email, Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist, Nov. 10, 2020
Twitter, Erick Erickson tweet, Nov. 10, 2020
Twitter, Erick Erickson podcast (43:30), Nov. 10, 2020
Email, Abigail Collazo, former communications director for Stacey Abrams gubernatorial campaign, Nov. 10, 2020