Two days after President Trump’s clumsy, possibly illegal, attempt to pressure Georgia officials to help steal the election for him, and a day before Tuesday’s Senate runoffs, a top official in the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called a national press conference to dispute the conspiracy theories advanced by Trump and his allies.
In a 30-minute press conference on Monday afternoon, Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, methodically demolished a long list of false claims about the Nov. 3 presidential election that had been pushed by Trump and his allies, including in a phone call to Raffensperger by the president Saturday.
A recording of the one-hour call was released Sunday by the Washington Post. The president is heard pressuring Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” which would put him in the lead over President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia, which has already certified its results.
Trump also threatened Raffensperger and his counsel, Ryan Germany, with the possibility of criminal charges unless he came up with the votes to overturn the election results.
When asked about the phone call, Sterling said, “I personally found it to be something that was not normal, out of place and nobody I know who would be president would do something like that to a secretary of state.”
The call came in advance of a big week for elections: On Tuesday, Georgia voters will elect two U.S. senators to the seats currently held by Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. On Wednesday, Congress is required to certify the Electoral College count, which, based on a complete tally of the states, was won by President-elect Joe Biden. A majority of House Republicans and a number of senators have announced their intentions to object to certification, based on unfounded or disproven allegations of irregularities in the vote count in various states. Officially changing the result would require majorities in both houses of Congress, which appears to be an extremely remote possibility.
Among the conspiracies debunked by Sterling on Monday was a claim that parts were removed from voting machines, that machines were swapping or deleting votes, that an arena where votes were being counted was sabotaged and that ballots for Biden were scanned multiple times, that thousands of felons and underage residents voted illegally and that thousands of “fake ballots” were in a Fulton County warehouse. Sterling also confirmed that Raffensperger does not have a brother, let alone one who works for a Chinese tech firm, who figured in a bizarre conspiracy theory advanced by Trump. Many of the conspiracy theories cited by Trump found their roots in the QAnon community.
“There was the claim that 66,248 people below the age of 18 voted,” Sterling said during his monologue, ticking off misinformation. “The actual number is zero. Let me be clear: 66,000 versus zero. And the reason we know that is the dates are on the voter registration. There are four cases — four — where people requested their absentee ballot before they turned 18, but they turned 18 by Election Day. That means that’s a legally cast ballot.”
A hand count of the vote in Georgia found that Biden won by 11,779 votes. Meeting Trump’s demand to “find 11,780 votes” to give him victory in the state would not be enough to change the national outcome, but would lend credibility to Trump’s efforts to subvert the votes in other, larger states.
Sterling repeatedly urged Georgians who haven’t yet voted in the Senate runoffs to disregard Trump’s claims that the state’s election system is flawed. “Given the nature of the president’s statements and several other people who have been aligned with him previously who literally had a rally saying ‘Protest and don’t vote,’ we are specifically asking you and telling you please turn out and vote tomorrow,” said Sterling.
“One of the things specifically I’ve had to argue with people whom I’ve known for 20 years, they say, ‘Well, we feel like our election was stolen. We feel like our votes don’t count.’ I say, ‘OK, I’m not acknowledging the election was stolen because it wasn’t. I’m not acknowledging there was massive voter fraud because there wasn’t, but if you believe in your heart of hearts that there was, the best thing for you to do is to turn out and vote and make it harder for them to steal. If that’s what you genuinely believe, turn out and vote.’”
In an interview Monday with NBC News, Raffensperger said he was unsure how the recording got released but believed “we’re better for it.”
“Now everyone can listen to the whole one hour eight minute call with the president. But at the end of the day, what he said was not factually correct. And I want to make sure that people understand the facts,” Raffensperger said, adding, “You can't keep on taking shots from people and people keep putting out stuff that's not true. And we're going to respond. We're going to respond forcefully, sometimes with the facts that people can't handle the facts, I'm sorry, but those are the facts.”
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