Georgia’s top election official claimed Tuesday that 1,000 people voted twice in the state’s summer primaries – a miniscule number out of millions of ballots cast – and called for criminal prosecutions for potential absentee ballot fraud.
The announcement from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, was immediately questioned by nonpartisan experts, and a spokeswoman for the Georgia attorney general’s office said it would conduct its own review to determine if charges are appropriate.
About 2.2 million Georgians voted in the June primary, and even more participated in August runoff elections.
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President Donald Trump and many Republicans have spread false theories about “widespread” and “massive” voter fraud.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Raffensperger said the 1,000 double votes in Georgia’s June primary and August runoff elections “did not affect any of the results,” even though he said the votes were counted twice and that some of them showed up in the final election tallies.
“Let me be clear. It is a felony to double vote in Georgia. And we prosecute,” Raffensperger said. “My office is dedicated, working with counties to assure that it won’t happen in November, or in the future.”
The problems Raffensperger flagged involved people who submitted absentee ballots and also voted in-person. This is the same thing Trump encouraged supporters to do last week, though he said that they should use both voting methods to test anti-fraud safeguards. It’s illegal to vote twice and election officials from across the country said his comments encouraged voter fraud.
Raffensperger claimed that there were 150,000 voters who applied for an absentee ballot and then showed up on Election Day to have their absentee vote canceled during the primary. Raffensperger said 1,000 people of that 150,000 double voted “knowing full well that they had filled out an absentee ballot, had mailed it back in, and then showed up on the day of election.”
Raffensperger repeatedly claimed that these findings did not expose issues with the state’s voting system – a claim that was met with skepticism from nonpartisan election experts.
“The system worked fine, it’s not the system,” Raffensperger said. “A double voter knows exactly what they’re doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law.”
Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida and a leading expert on voting procedures, warned against taking Raffensperger’s claims at face value.
“We have to be cautious of these claims because the error may actually be with election officials, it may not be with the voters,” McDonald told CNN, laying out a litany of data entry issues that could lead to issues with tracking voting data. He also said that if the system was working correctly, any alleged double votes would be detected and would not get counted twice.
Georgia’s Voter Empowerment Task Force, comprised of liberal-leaning groups such as Fair Fight, slammed Raffensperger’s comments on Tuesday, calling it a “deliberate distraction” to divert attention away from election problems under his watch. In a statement to CNN, Scott Hogan, head of the Georgia Democratic Party, accused Raffensperger of promoting “conspiracy theories and disinformation” about the mail-in voting process.
Plagued by challenges
An investigation by The New York Times found a “cascade of failures” in Georgia, including problems with newly installed voting systems, late-arriving absentee ballots, and long lines at polling places.
Of the 2.2 million votes cast in the state’s primary election, about 1.6 million were absentee ballots, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. There were problems in the June primary, and, many voters reported not receiving their absentee ballots in time to cast their vote.
Andrea Young, executive director of ACLU Georgia, told CNN of one such instance.
“What I witnessed at a polling precinct in Southwest Atlanta was an older voter who voted in person because her absentee ballot had not arrived. She returned home to find the ballot had been delivered and was so conscientious that she brought it back to the polls and destroyed it in the presence of poll workers,” Young said in a statement to CNN.
Other high-profile examples included Stacey Abrams, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia and founder of a voting rights group, who had to vote in-person after receiving an absentee ballot in May that had an unusable return envelope.
The Secretary of State’s office at the time told CNN that nearly 97% of absentee ballots were delivered to the right place before Election Day. Even though the overwhelming majority of voters got their requested ballots, a few thousand missing votes could sway a razor-thin race.