Brad Raffensperger may well be responsible for creating the most havoc in Georgia since Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman visited the state in 1864. Because the balance of power in Washington has come down to a couple of seats in the U.S. Senate currently held by Georgia Republicans, it’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of the January 5 runoffs or how badly our feckless secretary of state is likely to mismanage them. His ineptitude during the general election produced the rapid deployment of Republican attorneys who have bombarded Raffensperger with lawsuits in an effort to prevent the runoff from devolving into the kind of debacle that he presided over in November.
The most recent lawsuit against Raffensperger and the Georgia State Election Board was filed December 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia by the Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Perdue for Senate, and Georgians for Kelly Loeffler. It challenges the secretary’s new absentee ballot verification rules and the amount of access provided to poll watchers for purposes of observing the signature matching process. The complaint questions the constitutionality of the process created last March when Raffensperger negotiated a consent decree with the Democratic Party whereby an already lax signature validation process was rendered less secure:
Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court immediately (i) declare that the current Georgia signature matching process is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; (ii) order Defendants to implement signature review of all absentee ballots by three reviewers, including providing meaningful public observation from at least one person from each political party represented by the candidates; (iii) order Defendants to implement election safeguards to require ballots with mismatched signatures as determined by reviewers to be segregated for additional review consistent with procedures for rejected ballots.
Another federal lawsuit was filed December 9 against Raffensperger and the State Election Board by the 12th Congressional District Republican Committee. It also addresses absentee ballots, but focuses primarily on the use of ballot drop boxes. The plaintiffs seek enforcement during the January 5 runoff of state election laws that were ignored during the November general election. Specifically, the complaint addresses a decision made last April by Raffensperger and the State Election Board to allow the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots. The complaint emphasizes that neither Raffensperger nor the Election Board has the statutory authority to approve the use of ballot drop boxes.
In fact, their authorization of ballot drop boxes not only circumvents current Georgia law, it effectively legalizes ballot harvesting because the boxes are unattended and any individual can stuff them with ballots — regardless of their relationship with any actual voter. Consequently, ballot drop boxes dramatically increase the potential for fraud because they facilitate a breach in the chain of custody that is necessary for proper vote validation. Georgia law requires absentee voters to personally mail or deliver ballots to the board of registrars. Only the Georgia General Assembly has the power to change these statutes. Raffensperger cannot unilaterally alter state election law. As the plaintiffs put it:
Without authorization from the Georgia General Assembly and despite the plain language of the applicable Georgia statutes to the contrary, Defendants Secretary of State and the State Election Board (“SEB”) promulgated and enforced new election rules and procedures that effectively override the requirements enacted by the General Assembly.… These new rules allow absentee ballots to be delivered to unattended drop boxes by individuals other than relatives or members of the households of absentee ballot voters.… Defendants Secretary of State and SEB will implement these new rules during the United States Senate run-off elections concluding on January 5, 2020.
If the meaning of that last sentence isn’t blindingly obvious, it confirms that our secretary of state learned nothing from last month’s election mess. Despite the inevitable problems that occurred pursuant to his April decision, Raffensperger and the Georgia Election Board extended the emergency rule allowing drop boxes to cover the January 5 runoff. The plaintiffs have asked the court to invalidate the new rules promulgated by Raffensperger in April, prohibit the use of drop boxes for the receipt of absentee ballots, prohibit the opening of absentee ballot envelopes before Election Day, and order election officials to comply with signature verification requirements mandated by the General Assembly.
It’s a good bet that President Trump lost Georgia due to the ineptitude of Brad Raffensperger during the year leading up to the November election. It is to be hoped that the above-discussed lawsuits, and several others in which he is named as the primary defendant, will prevent him from making some blunder that fatally damages the reelection campaigns of Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Regardless of how January 5 goes, however, it’s clear that Raffensperger is the metaphorical equivalent of a “Sherman bowtie” around the neck of the Georgia Republican Party. Even after he’s gone, the ill effects of his tenure as Georgia secretary of state will be all too obvious for some time to come.