Four Georgia state senators, including outgoing Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak , joined a chorus of voices urging state leaders to convene a special session for the General Assembly and to make some kind of reform in the registration and absentee voting systems in advance of the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs.
Ligon signed onto a statement Wednesday — along Sens. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, and Burt Jones, R-Jackson — calling for “certain measures to be taken to secure the legal vote of our citizens in the 2020 general election.”
Ligon did not run for re-election this year and will be replaced by Sheila McNeill, also a Republican, in January.
“Decisions regarding elections really should be vetted through the legislature. That is the duty of the legislature,” Ligon told The News on Wednesday. “We want to get back into session and look at what is being done to ensure the vote is secure, particularly when it comes to the absentee ballot process.”
Some apparent weaknesses and recent measures taken by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger deserve greater scrutiny, he said. Concerns range from online voter registration, ballot drop boxes, ballot harvesting, some poll monitors in the Atlanta area allegedly being blocked from observing the counting process and claims of poll workers improperly handling ballots.
“There could be things that we need to do to secure the vote. If you apply one way, there’s a photo ID and a signature on record. If you apply by mail, then that process becomes a little more questionable,” Ligon said. “We need to revisit this whole process and make sure we’re not opening up the door and making it easy to commit fraud.”
Ligon said he’s seen and heard of many sworn statements and affidavits that led him to strongly believe some kind of fraud occurred in the presidential election. None came from Glynn County, he said. Most centered around metropolitan Atlanta counties.
“I’m also concerned that individuals in particular with the Republican party, it seems like from the affidavits that I read, they were harassed and kept from viewing some of the recounts and seeing and understanding what was going on,” Ligon said.
Ligon said the legislature should hold a special session before the January runoff to investigate these issues and ensure they won’t affect the senatorial election. Winners of Georgia’s two seats in the U.S. Senate will be determined in the runoff. The outcome also will determine the political party that will control the upper chamber of Congress.
“I think we need to look at what some other states are doing that haven’t had these issues and tailor our laws accordingly,” Ligon said. “This is serious business, and I think we need to take it seriously. It shouldn’t be dismissed.”
Wednesday’s statement from the senators follows public comments last week from outgoing state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island. Jones was defeated during the party primaries by fellow Republican Buddy DeLoach, who will take over for Jones in January.
Jones believes the audit and any recounts are a waste of time as election workers cannot re-verify signatures on absentee-by-mail ballots due to voter confidentiality requirements.
Once registered, to submit an absentee ballot a voter needs to provide accurate residency information and a signature that matches one on file at their local elections office. Mail-in ballots can be rejected if residency information provided is inaccurate and the voter fails to correct their ballot in the allotted time, but three election workers must agree a signature does not match before it can be rejected for that reason.
Election officials say that information, including the signature, is separated from mail-in ballots early in the counting process to ensure a voter’s privacy. Jones believes this process opens the door to voter fraud because absentee ballot signatures can’t be re-verified once they are accepted by local election workers.
“They’re just recounting the same illegal ballots,” Jones said.
He said the state legislature should pass a law blocking the certification of the election results, which occurred last Friday, “until Georgia audits in-person and absentee mail-in ballots against the voter registration signature.”
That would require a new election, he said, because Georgia separates mail-in ballot signatures from the ballot itself.
In a statement earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, made it clear they would not support calling the legislature back to Atlanta.
“Any changes to Georgia’s election laws made in a special session will not have any impact on an ongoing election and would only result in endless litigation,” the statement reads. “We share the same concerns many Georgians have about the integrity of our elections. Therefore, we will follow the coming audit and recount closely, and will work together to keep Georgia’s elections safe, accessible and fair.”
The statement from Sen. Ligon also said the legislature needs to address “directives from the Secretary of State and the State Election Board that attempt to replace the conditions of Georgia law.”
Jones made a similar claim, saying a consent decree between the Secretary of State’s office and multiple Democratic organizations effectively changed state law in regards to absentee ballots.
The order settled a lawsuit over signature verification, according to court documents. By agreeing, the Secretary of State’s office committed to making multiple attempts to contact anyone who’s mail-in ballot had been rejected and giving them ample time to correct errors. In a press conference earlier this month, state voting systems implementation manager Gabriel Sterling said any claims the order changed state law were outright wrong.