The Signature Audit Georgia Republicans Claim To Want Would Be Fruitless — But It’s Convenient

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 10: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks during a press conference announcing statewide expanded COVID testing on August 10, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 10: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
December 8, 2020 6:37 p.m.

In recent days, Georgia Republicans have quickly coalesced behind calling for a “signature audit” to address the fabricated ills of the November election. 

“We must restore confidence in the integrity of our elections,” tweeted David Shafer, chair of the state Republican party, on Monday. “The time for begging elections officials to do their job and obey the law is over.” 

And now, the state party, the Trump campaign, and Trump himself have sued Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, in state court for refusing calls from Governor Brian Kemp (R) and others to audit the signatures connected to absentee ballots from the presidential election. The lawsuit was initially filed on Friday and rejected due to a filing fee issue, but seems to have been refiled and is now listed as “open” on the Fulton County courts docket.

Raffensperger, who has taken the gloves off after weeks of attacks from members of his own party, responded aggressively.

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“First, there has been no evidence presented of any issues with the signature matching process,” Raffensperger tweeted on Tuesday. “Second, our office repeatedly told the GA Rep Party, including David Shafer himself, that the signature verification process was—and always has been—public and that they could observe it.”

“David- from one Republican to another, please start focusing on what matters,” Raffensperger concluded. “If you put as much effort into the January runoffs as you have put on blaming others for your failures, we can’t lose.”

The lawsuit, like so many others Trump and his allies have mounted, likely won’t go anywhere. Just yesterday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick dismissed a different election challenge for wrongly naming Raffensperger as a defendant. She sided with Senior Assistant Attorney General Russ Willard who pointed out that, under Georgia law, Raffensperger does not qualify as a valid defendant in an election contest. The Republicans in the new lawsuit tacked on a long list of other election officials though, perhaps hoping they would qualify as permissible defendants.

Logistically Pointless

But in addition to those potential issues, what Republicans are seeking is near impossible. Putting aside the many dozens of pages of voter fraud allegations — the lawsuit is ultimately seeking for the results of the election to be tossed altogether — the Republicans’ lawyers are calling for a signature audit to be conducted. 

“Petitioners respectfully request that the Court order the production of the records of the absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots, for purposes of conducting an audit of the signatures on absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots cast in the Contested Election,” they wrote. 

They later specify that they want 10,000 absentee ballot envelopes and ballot applications, as well as access to the voter registration database.

First of all, such a signature-matching check has already been done. In many cases, it’s been done twice.

Georgia law requires county election workers to check a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot envelope against the voter signature on file. On top of that, Raffensperger’s office added an additional signature-match check this year when a voter submitted an absentee ballot request form by mail, even before the ballot was mailed. If the voter submitted the request online, a photo ID was required and the signature was checked when the ballot arrived.

Once the election worker verifies the signatures, the envelope with the signature and ballot inside are separated. That is in keeping with the state constitution, which mandates that the state’s voters cast “secret ballots.”

At this point, even if another audit was conducted, there is no way to connect the envelope back to the ballot — no way to know if a voter with mismatched signatures cast a ballot for President Donald Trump or for President-Elect Joe Biden.

That leaves the Republicans with the hope that a judge will decide to throw out a whole batch of absentee ballots at once, perhaps in counties with high signature mismatch rates. 

“I don’t think there is a judge in the land that would throw out all those legally cast votes,” said Gabe Sterling, a top Georgia election official, at a recent press conference.

Behind The Words

So if a signature audit has already been done, would be extremely difficult to do again and would not with any certainty produce results in Trump’s favor — why are Republicans rallying around it? 

For one, Trump likes the idea and has taken to championing it publicly. In his attempt to pressure Kemp into overriding the election results and appointing a slate of Trump-friendly electors instead, he also brought up the signature audit.

“As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times (11/20, 11/24, 12/3) to restore confidence in our election process and to ensure that only legal votes are counted in Georgia,” Kemp tweeted after the conversation.

But it’s also proved a useful rhetorical tool for Republicans walking a very thin tightrope. Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), in particular, are trying to hold two contradictory ideas at once: that the November election was rigged, or at least peppered with irregularities, but that Republicans should still come out and vote in the January runoff. They need to appease Trump to keep his base while not disheartening Republicans so much that they don’t vote.

Calling for a signature audit gives them the necessary pivot. See Loeffler’s response during a Sunday debate when her Democratic opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock, asked her to admit that Trump lost the election:

“President Trump has every right to use every legal recourse available,” she responded, adding that there are “investigations that need to be completed.” 

“I’ve called for a signature audit,” she continued. “We need to hold folks accountable involved in these investigations to make sure they move more quickly, because everything’s at stake for January 5th for the future of our country.”

A signature audit would be fruitless, and Republicans likely know it. But it’s a rhetorical tool they need in their dwindling arsenal, as long as they agree to reside in Trump’s election fraud fantasyland.

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