Former Sen. David Perdue of Georgia launched his campaign for governor on Monday with a false claim about his chief opponent in the Republican primary, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.
In a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, Perdue accused Kemp of handing control of Georgia elections to Democrat Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia state House minority leader who is now making a second run for governor after Kemp beat her in a close race in 2018.
“Over my dead body will we ever do what Kemp did, and that is turn our elections over to Stacey Abrams,” said Perdue, who lost his US Senate seat to Democrat Jon Ossoff in early 2021. “We’ll never let that happen again.”
Perdue’s claim echoed language he used in the announcement video he released earlier on Monday: “Over my dead body will we ever give Stacey Abrams control of our elections again.”
Perdue didn’t elaborate on how Kemp supposedly turned over Georgia elections to Abrams, and his campaign didn’t respond to CNN’s requests for clarification. But his comments on Fox were preceded by some relevant context from Hannity.
Hannity had complained just over a minute earlier about a 2020 legal settlement between Democratic organizations and Georgia elections officials. That settlement, which Trump has denounced repeatedly, laid out statewide standards for how Georgia counties had to verify absentee voters’ signatures and for how quickly those counties had to contact absentee voters whose ballots were at risk of being tossed out.
Facts First: Perdue’s claim was entirely inaccurate. Stacey Abrams has never been in control of Georgia elections, and Kemp certainly did not turn over Georgia elections to her. In reality: The 2020 legal settlement didn’t give control of Georgia elections to any Democrat, neither Abrams nor Kemp was a party to the settlement and Abrams wasn’t even in government at the time.
Perdue could perhaps argue that he meant “turn our elections over to Stacey Abrams” in some less-than-literal way. But his claim is baseless no matter how generously you interpret it.
In a rare moment of unity, the Kemp and Abrams campaigns both said Tuesday that Perdue’s claim was false.
Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall said in an email to CNN that “the claim he gave Abrams control of elections is a lie.” Hall also said that “the Governor had no role in the settlement negotiations” and “was not a party to the agreement.”
The Abrams campaign reiterated that she had not been involved in the settlement either. Campaign spokesman Seth Bringman said in an email to CNN: “David Perdue was apparently using one of Donald Trump’s favorite Georgia fairy tales to make the argument that Brian Kemp is not anti-voter enough. Is this real life?!”
The March 2020 settlement has become a boogeyman to Trump and his Georgia allies. Trump has blasted both Kemp and Republican Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger over the settlement – while wrongly describing what it said and wrongly describing it as an Abrams vehicle for election fraud.
So even without confirmation from Perdue that this is what he was referring to on Monday, it’s worth explaining who was involved in the agreement, where it came from and what it actually included.
The settlement resolved a legal complaint that had been filed in 2019 by the Democratic Party of Georgia and two national Democratic entities, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The defendants listed on the settlement document Trump and others have criticized were Raffensperger and four other then-members of the state election board.
Kemp and Abrams were not mentioned in the settlement.
The specifics of the settlement
The settlement addressed a Democratic complaint about a hole in Georgia elections law. But it did not change anything about who has power over Georgia elections.
Here’s the background.
A law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2019 required counties to give absentee voters the opportunity to “cure” problems with their ballots, such as mismatched or missing signatures, before those ballots were tossed out. The law had also required counties to “promptly” get in touch with the voters whose ballots were in danger.
But the law didn’t define “promptly” and didn’t specify what methods counties needed to use to notify the voters. The Democratic plaintiffs alleged that too many absentee ballots had been rejected in Georgia because of the absence of such specifics; they also argued that these rejections had disproportionately disenfranchised “African-American and other minority voters.”
Raffensperger settled the complaint by agreeing to enforce a set of statewide notification standards – standards that, as Raffensperger’s office emphasized to CNN, the state election board had already approved at public meetings during the weeks prior to the settlement agreement. Raffensperger said in a statement to CNN that the settlement “didn’t change Georgia law – it upheld it.”
Under the new standards, counties had to notify absentee voters of pending ballot rejections, and the opportunity to “cure” the problem, either by the next business day or in three business days, depending on how late in the campaign the ballot was received. And counties were required to send the voters a mailed notice for sure, plus try them by phone and email if that extra information was available on their voter registration records.
Nothing in this policy represented a transfer of election power to Abrams or to Democrats more broadly.
Georgia’s signature-match system was eliminated by the new Republican elections law Kemp signed in March 2021; now Georgia’s absentee voters have to provide one of several forms of non-signature identification. But contrary to Trump’s claim in September 2021 that the 2020 legal settlement “effectively abolished signature verification” in Georgia, the verification system was very much in place during the 2020 presidential election. In fact, the settlement explicitly kept a signature verification system in place – laying out a statewide process for how counties had to go about comparing voters’ new signatures with older signatures on file.
Some Republicans have complained that another section of the settlement gave too much power to Democrats. Raffensperger and the state election board members agreed to “consider in good faith” sending counties “additional guidance and training materials” on signature verification that would be drafted by the Democratic plaintiffs.
Even if Raffensperger’s office did send counties Democratic-drafted guidance and training materials, that still wouldn’t mean Abrams had been handed control of Georgia elections. But Raffensperger’s office told CNN on Tuesday that they didn’t end up sending out those documents.
“We considered but did not use or distribute the materials from the Democratic Party plaintiffs,” the office said in an email.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to add a comment from Raffensperger and to clarify when the Georgia state election board approved new statewide notification standards for absentee ballots.