Georgia officials will conduct a signature-match audit of absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County to promote faith in the election system ahead of next month’s U.S. Senate runoff elections, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced on Monday.
The audit comes in response to a “specific allegation” the mail-in signature verification process was not followed properly in Cobb for the Nov. 3 general election, Raffensperger said at a news conference. He did not give details on the allegation.
Re-checking the envelope signatures in Cobb also aims to boost confidence in the integrity of the high-stakes Senate runoffs on Jan. 5 amid fraud claims from President Donald Trump and his allies that have injected doubt into Georgia’s election system, Raffensperger said.
“We stand ready to answer each and every question out there,” Raffensperger said. “Every Georgian should have faith in our elections.”
The audit should take about two weeks to complete, Raffensperger said. Officials then plan to start work on a longer-range statewide study of mail-in signatures Raffensperger said will be done by independent auditors.
Absentee ballots in Georgia are verified once when a voter requests a ballot, then again on signature-bearing envelopes sent to county election boards. Those envelopes are separated from the absentee ballots to protect voters’ ballot selections and preserve voter privacy, according to state law.
Raffensperger and his deputies have faced intense criticism from Trump and many Republican leaders in Georgia for not re-verifying signatures on the record-breaking 1.3 million absentee ballots cast in the Nov. 3 presidential election, which President-elect Joe Biden won by 12,779 votes.
The secretary of state’s office has almost daily sought to dispute fraud claims lobbed by Trump and his allies, noting two statewide recounts of the results found no evidence of any widespread fraud. Courts have also tossed out several lawsuits seeking to overturn the results.
Gabriel Sterling, the state’s election system manager, stressed a main goal of the Cobb audit is to restore faith in Georgia’s elections due to “the pure volume of disinformation and lies” promoted by Trump and his supporters.
Raffensperger in recent weeks has called on state lawmakers to change Georgia’s election laws to add stricter voter ID requirements, eliminate mail-in voting without cause and give state officials power to remove poor-performing county election managers.
Those calls for law changes have not satisfied one of the state’s most powerful Republicans, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who last week urged state lawmakers to bring legislation aimed at giving the General Assembly authority to pick the secretary of state, not Georgia voters.
Raffensperger’s announcement also comes as Georgia’s Democratic slate of electors to the Electoral College cast the state’s 16 votes on Monday for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, formally declaring them winners of last month’s presidential contest.
The Electoral College vote came on the first day of the three-week early voting period ahead of Georgia’s U.S. high-stakes runoff elections on Jan. 5. Democrats will gain control of the White House and Congress if challengers Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both beat Republican incumbent U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.