Here's your Sunday civics lessons about absentee ballot signatures, consent agreements, secret ballots, and new elections: There has been a lot of talk (and several tweets from President Trump) on verification of absentee ballot signatures. In Georgia, when an absentee ballot comes in, the outer envelope has an oath the voter must sign. Under Georgia law, if the signature does not match the signature on file for that voter, the ballot is marked "REJECTED" and not counted. If the signature matches, the ballot is taken out and sent to another room where it is opened far from the signature so it cannot be traced to the original envelope. That's how we preserve our right to vote by SECRET BALLOT. If your signed envelope can be traced back to your ballot, it would mean the vote was not secret.
My former law school classmate and good friend Doug Collins sees that as a problem, I don't. Probably the first time we've disagreed on anything.
In March, the State of Georgia was being sued by the Democratic Party. Instead of continuing to fight the lawsuit which would have cost millions in taxpayer funds, the two parties (the State of Georgia and the Democratic Party) reached a settlement called a "consent agreement."
It was signed by the attorneys for the two parties including the Attorney General of Georgia and attorney Vincent Russo, who was representing the State of Georgia, but who also was and is currently the General Counsel for the Georgia Republican Party appointed by Chairman David Shafer. The consent agreement did two things;
- Required if the signature does not match, the voter be contacted and have 3 business days to "cure" their ballot, which means show up in person with an ID showing they are who they are or else their ballot would still be rejected, and
- Allow the signature to be verified by comparing it to the signature on file OR the signature on the application for an absentee ballot.
The first point provides for more ballot security, but the second point seems to provide for much less. I will explain it.
The consent agreement says the following:
"When reviewing an elector’s signature on the mail-in absentee ballot envelope, the registrar or clerk must compare the signature on the mail-in absentee ballot envelope to EACH signature contained in such elector’s voter registration record in eNet AND the elector’s signature on the application for the mail-in absentee ballot. If the registrar or absentee ballot clerk determines that the voter’s signature on the mail-in absentee ballot envelope does not match ANY of the voter’s signatures on file in eNet OR on the absentee ballot application, the registrar or absentee ballot clerk must seek review from two other registrars, deputy registrars, or absentee ballot clerks." <emphasis added>
Let's say John Doe wants to steal my vote by absentee ballot. John fills out an absentee ballot request and signs his version of my name. When he mails back the fraudulent ballot, he signs the oath with his version of my name. The staff at the elections office looks at the signature they have on file for me. It doesn't match. Because of the consent agreement, they now look at the application for the ballot and see that the forged signatures do match and the fraudulent ballot is accepted as legitimate. In tweets, the President has highlighted the consent agreement In practice though, it may be more poor wording than an actual election security threat. This, of course, has not stopped Republican Party Chairman David Shafer from demanding a re-evaluation of the signatures, something President Trump has been demanding be part of the process.
Furthermore, noted attorney L. Lin Wood has filed suit to get the consent agreement overturned.
However, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, has said in statements though that they are still requiring the procedure is still be a two-step process requiring each of the signatures to match both the application and eNet. As he has explained, "When the voter marks their absentee and places it in the envelope to return to the county, the voter MUST sign the oath on the outside of the outer envelope. When the ballot is returned to the county, the first thing the county must do is compare the signature to the absentee ballot application (unless the application was made online) and then also compare the ballot envelope signature to the signature(s) of the voter from the voter registration system. Again, the signatures must be consistent, though need not match 'exactly.'"
If that is actually what is happening in practice, then it should make sure that, absent massive collusion at the county level, which would be easy to uncover, ballots with signature mismatches are not getting through to the final pile of ballots.
So what happens if we do, in fact, have a recount signature review based only on the signature on file, as the state law originally required, and reject ballots that have a signature mismatch? The only thing you can do is disqualify that VOTER, not their ballot, which is mixed in. We also don't know if we disqualified a Biden voter, a Trump voter, or someone who wrote in "Mickey Mouse" for President! However, if we disqualify enough VOTERS, we can ask for a NEW ELECTION!
Yes, because we don't know which ballots are their's (that whole secret ballot thing) the only option is a re-do. But, since the Electoral College meets on December 14 to cast the votes from President, then that is the deadline if we are going to go for that re-do. Since the U.S. Constitution sets that date, we can't get around it.
Also, the threshold for invalidating an election is very high. While lawyers are not exactly known for our math skills, this requires MATH
Right now, Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump in Georgia by 14,122 votes. So, right now you're thinking if we invalidate 14,123 voters, we can get a new election, right?
Once again of those 14,123 voters, we don't know how they voted. So we need more, A LOT MORE voters to be disqualified.
To do that, you must find the total number of people who voted overall, the total number who voted in that race, the difference between those numbers, and then add the difference between the two candidates.
4,991,938 million votes were cast in the Presidential election for the three candidates, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Jo Jorgensen, but maybe 5,000,000 (a good round number for easy lawyer math) voters picked up ballots and votes were cast with write-in votes for Mickey Mouse and people who skipped that election so, that would be our total number of people for this hypothetical. The difference 8,062.
So the real number of voters who have to be disqualified to force a new election is 14,122 + 8,062 = 22,184.
That number is possible but unlikely with just signature mismatch. But remember, if we can find 22,184 (remember, this is just a hypothetical number as we don't know yet who many voters participated, it could be much more, especially since we basically ignore the 60,000+ votes the Libertarian candidate got) VOTERS who were not qualified to vote, then we can take it to COURT and ask for a new election.
Erick Erickson has explained how he had a court case in 2000 on this issue, but with much smaller vote totals.
A recount only determines if the numbers were correct the first time (they usually were not) but recounts rarely change the outcome positively for Republicans (odd how that works). Georgia is not just conducting a recount but an AUDIT as well to make sure the software in the machines tabulated votes correctly versus the paper printout which each voter should have checked for accuracy.
Election fraud happens all the time, but can only make a difference in a close election. This was a CLOSE election (hear that Joe Biden CLOSE, no mandate for you). What we have to ask is why did we allow it to be this close? How could we have gotten the message out better? Could the President have changed his tone to appeal to more to people in the center, not people like me who only are concerned about his amazing policy achievements, even if I wasn't always thrilled with how he presented himself.
To me, the proof of the greatness of this president was not in what he said, but his policies that have helped me (mostly) recover from the Obama-Biden economic malaise, the fact he was willing to take bold steps and fulfil promises made, but never carried through by his predecessors, and the judges and justices he put on the federal bench.
Too many voters decided that wasn't what they wanted. They wanted a touchy-feely President (and we all know how touchy-feely Biden and his hairy legs are).
We will see how that works out for America. Now it's time to focus on saving the Senate, and our Republic.