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Lawsuit over absentee ballots filed in Georgia runoff elections

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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States

AUGUSTA, Georgia — A federal judge in Augusta will hear arguments Thursday in a new lawsuit challenging election processes used in Georgia for the presidential election and attempting to alter them ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs for U.S. Senate.

Filed by the 12th Congressional District Republican Committee, the suit contends procedures used to process absentee ballots in the general election could enable massive fraud in the runoffs.

The case is one of the latest in a string of what have been unsuccessful cases challenging the integrity of the presidential election in Georgia and echoing President Trump’s baseless claim that vote fraud cost him the election.

The lawsuit names Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, members of the State Elections Board and one county elections board, Richmond County Board of Elections as defendants.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Atlanta.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Atlanta.

Chief Judge J. Randal Hall will hear arguments from both sides Thursday to decide whether to grant the plaintiffs' request for an injunction blocking election processes in use in the runoffs, in which hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters have already cast ballots. He's also being asked to issue a judicial declaration that the state's processes violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

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The named voter plaintiffs are Richmond County voter Brian W. Tucker, Coffee County voter Cathy A. Latham and Edward T. Metz, a Libertarian candidate for governor in 2018 whose home county is not included in the lawsuit.

The 12th Congressional District Republican Committee is an unincorporated organization dedicated to Republican candidates in the 12th Congressional District, the suit states. The district, currently represented by Rep. Rick Allen, R-Augusta, includes most of Columbia County, all of Richmond County and runs south almost to Savannah and west including Vidalia, Dublin and Douglas.

The lawsuit alleges the use of absentee ballots enables fraudulent votes, and it facilitates the collection of large numbers of absentee ballots by third parties, which the plaintiffs contend is ballot harvesting.

The plaintiffs allege the secretary of state's directive to county election boards does not require verification of the signature on absentee ballots with the signature on the voter's registration card.

But the directive, which attached to the lawsuit, requires more than one person to compare absentee ballot signatures if there is an initial suspicion the signatures do not match. A majority of those reviewers determine if the signature is valid compared to the other voter's signature on file and on the registration card.

Lynn Bailey, executive director for Richmond County Board of Elections, has detailed the process her office has used for years to twice verify a voter’s signature. Upon receipt of an absentee ballot application, the application signature is compared with a voter’s registration signature that’s already scanned into the election system, she said.

More: In Georgia Senate race, Loeffler and Perdue demand updated list of registered voters

When the voter returns the ballot by mail or using a drop box, the voter’s signature on the return envelope is compared with the signature on file, she has said. If it appears a mismatch, three workers attempt to confirm its validity. If they don’t, the ballot is placed in provisional status and the voter must show ID and sign an affidavit confirming their identity before the ballot is counted, Bailey has said.

Statewide the process is similar, although some counties may have acquired software that aids the signature matching process, she has said.

The state election board adopted earlier this year a policy of the early opening of absentee ballots because of the large number of such ballots expected because of COVID-19.

The plaintiffs are seeking a stop to the practice used this year for absentee ballots to be opened and scanned before election day, meaning results would take much longer to tally, and invalidate Raffensperger's signature directive.

They also want the judge to prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes they say are conducive to fraud. The boxes are monitored on video 24 hours a day, according to elections officials.

Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp have declined or ignored Trump's demand for a statewide signature audit, which is challenging as ballots have already been separated from their enclosing signature envelopes. This week, Raffensperger announced the state will audit a sample of absentee ballots in Cobb County that won't change the election result.

More: President-elect Biden campaigns for Democratic candidates in high-stakes Georgia Senate runoffs

In a case the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claimed there were more than 80,000 forged signatures on Georgia absentee ballots in the general election, but presented no credible evidence to substantiate it.

In another case for which Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was co-counsel, a video of Fulton County workers scanning ballots is claimed to show them injecting fraudulent absentee ballots stored in hidden suitcases into the election.

The suit, which filing attorney Sidney Powell said would be like an attack by the mythical “kraken” sea monster, was soon dismissed by a federal judge. State officials said an investigation by certified Georgia law enforcement officers found only routine election activities shown in the video.

The Jan. 5 runoffs are between Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their corresponding Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. If Ossoff and Warnock win, it will shift the balance of power in Congress to the Democrats. Also on the ballot is a runoff between Public Service Commission incumbent Republican Lauren "Bubba" McDonald and Democrat challenger Daniel Blackman.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Georgia Senate runoffs focus of federal absentee ballot lawsuit

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