(The Center Square) – A group of Georgia lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the state election board last week, urging them to make changes to the election process before the Jan. 5 runoff elections for U.S. Senate.
House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, said he and more than 100 other current and newly elected House representatives sent the letter to election officials with "two common-sense suggestions for improving the security and efficiency of our elections process."
"Many Georgians, including many of you, my colleagues, have had serious concerns and have serious concerns about Georgia's elections," Burns told members of the House Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday. "As we approach a critical election on Jan. 5, 2021, it's clear to me that Georgia voters must have confidence in the election process going forward."
In the letter, lawmakers urged the election board to require counties to allow independent observers from both parties to be involved in the signature validation process for absentee ballots, Burns said. They also asked Raffensperger and the board to deploy additional staff from other state agencies or contracted workers to oversee the elections at county precincts.
Burns made the announcement during the first half of an elections hearing in the House committee. It was the third legislative hearing the state has held regarding the Nov. 3 general election results.
County election boards completed a second recount of the state's presidential race results Monday after a request from President Donald Trump's campaign.
Trump, who lost to presumptive President-elect Joe Biden by more than 11,000 votes in Georgia, according to the recount, requested the second recount Nov. 22, two days after the results were certified by the state. Raffensperger ordered a hand recount and audit Nov. 11 because of the tight margin and to build confidence in the results.
Trump and his supporters have filed lawsuits and put forth claims of voter fraud in Georgia's election. At the forefront of the claims is surveillance video Trump's team said shows ballot stuffing. Trump's legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith, also allege security vulnerabilities in the state's new voting system and absentee ballot signature review process. The cases that have been heard by a judge have been dismissed.
The secretary of state's office has opened 132 fraud investigations related to the Nov. 3 election, Georgia Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling said Thursday. Election officials have refuted the Trump team allegations on multiple occasions.
Giuliani and two witnesses from the lawsuits read copies of sworn affidavits during Thursday's hearing. J. Christian Adams, president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, laid out a list of disadvantages regarding absentee mail-in voting.
"In summary, a mail-in election is probably the worst possible way to run an election, the worst," said Adams, who serves on Trump's advisory commission on election integrity.
Georgia saw an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in the general election because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adams said Thursday the mail-in process overall is "bad" because it disenfranchises voters, destroys transparency, creates vulnerability and storage issues, and lacks centralized oversight. Ballots can't be cured and voters can't confirm they actually are received, Adams said.
Georgia, however, does have a curing process for absentee ballots that involves contacting the voter and allowing them to fix any issues. Adams also suggested a slew of changes that include blocking private funding for election offices, stopping auto-mailing of ballots and considering a limit on the number of ballots a person can deliver or witness.
Witness Matt Braynard presented a list to the House committee of more than 460,000 "illegal votes," including ballots cast by felons, underage, deceased or out-of-state voters and some with invalid addresses. Among the numbers, Braynard claimed 305,701 mail-in ballots were submitted too early, and 66,247 voters were underaged.
"There's just so much disinformation. We have to shovel against oceans and oceans being perpetuated by the president of the United States and his legal teams, and they have the rights to go through their due process,” Sterling said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. “What they don’t have the right to do is bring them out in the way that they can't be questioned. And they can't be, you know, even looked at in a real way."
Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, said she reviewed Braynard's list of out-of-state voters and was able to confirm some of them lived in the state through public records, phone calls and internet searches.
In one scenario, Nguyen said she verified more than 120 residents lived in an apartment complex with a FedEx Center at the bottom of the building. Braynard accused them of disguising their residential addresses as P.O. boxes. Nguyen said she even drove to one of the "out-of-state" voter's homes.
"I actually just drove over to her house and talked to her and her husband yesterday afternoon," Nguyen said. "They've lived in Georgia their entire lives. Have lived in that same house since 1985. They've never even been to the state in which they're alleged to have double voted."
Both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs in runoff elections Jan. 5.
Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. David Perdue faces Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff, and Democrat Raphael Warnock is challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Those races will determine which party holds the majority in the U.S. Senate moving forward.